THE BIG GUNS…
It wouldn’t be November in South Bend without an ever-growing injury list, and this year’s newest additions could not have occurred at a worse time.
Senior cornerback KeiVarae Russell will not play against Stanford, the best team the Irish have faced since squaring off against No. 1 Clemson in early October, and his classmate, leading rusher C.J. Prosise, also appears unlikely to be ready for action in Palo Alto.
“CJ is right now in a walking boot,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of Prosise. “He's day-to-day, and we'll see where that takes us through the week.”
Russell is out for the season unless the Irish fight their way to the national championship game to be played on January 11.
“He had the surgery yesterday. He's resting at Saint Liam's and a rod and a couple of screws were put in there,” said Kelly. “Talking to Dr. Ratigan, who did the surgery, and expect him back and hopefully he's six weeks back and moving.”
Had it not been for the injury, Russell was nearly certain to play his final game for the Notre Dame program this season. His broken tibia suffered Saturday at Fenway Park doubtless clouds his NFL draft status. Russell is eligible for a fifth season of competition after sitting out all of 2014 due to suspension.
…AND THEIR BACKUPS
True freshman Josh Adams is again expected to start in Prosise’s stead. Adams, who started against Wake Forest two weeks ago when Prosise was felled by a concussion, will be backed by classmate Dexter Williams. If Prosise cannot contribute, Williams will have to.
“I think we've brought him along slowly,” said Kelly of Williams who has logged just four carries in competitive action (18 overall). “We've added more reps to his practice each and every week. We'll add more again this week…we think he's ready to contribute and help the football team win this weekend. But it's been slower than Josh…I think, for a true freshman, I think accelerated in a sense. He’s prepared and he's ready to help this football team this Saturday.”
Adams rushed for 147 and 143 yards, respectively, in wins over Pittsburgh and Wake Forest. He was held to 37 yards on 13 carries with a fumble lost Saturday night against Boston College, the nation’s top rush defense.
“I think if there's one thing, it's just hold onto the football down on the goal line more than anything else for Josh,” said Kelly, referencing the freshman’s costly goal line miscue.
THREE TO MAKE ONE?
It apparently will take a village to replace Russell at left cornerback this weekend, as Kelly noted that each of his trio of backup cornerbacks could see the field in an effort to slow the Cardinal.
“Devin Butler started against Stanford last year,” said Kelly of the junior special teams standout. “We'd like to see (sophomore) Nick Watkins. We'd like to see (Nick) Coleman.
“We think all of them can contribute, and not necessarily have to rely on one guy. We think all three of them as a combination might be the best way to go.”
Neither Watkins nor Coleman has seen action from scrimmage outside of the fourth quarter this season. In each case, the young duo was inserted with a contest no longer in doubt.
Still in the Mix? The insertion of fifth-year senior Matthias Farley at nickel last Saturday seemed to signify the end for junior slot receiver Torii Hunter, Jr., and his two-way duty, a package unveiled on Nov. 7 at Pittsburgh.
While Farley will likely appear in the role again, Kelly said Hunter remains a viable option.
“It’s still part of what we're doing. It's still part of our nickel package,” he said. “We didn't feel like we were in that need and that position against Boston College. It could be a bigger need this weekend. He’s still in taking reps and still working with our defense weekly relative to the nickel position.”
THE BEST OF YOU
A runner over 1,000 yards for the first time in four seasons. A pass-catcher that’s exceeded the same. A quarterback that sits one rushing touchdown shy of tying a program record at the position. Two potential first round draft picks on the defense – and the likely team MVP isn’t included in the accolades above.
There’s a lot to like about the 2015 Fighting Irish. Their head coach has a unique take on the group.
“I think what I like about them the most is that they're not a bunch of whiners. They don't whine. They don't complain,” Kelly said. “It's kind of like if one guy goes down, they pick the flag up and the next guy starts moving. Guy goes down, they pick the flag up and they keep moving. One of those Revolutionary War scenes where they keep marching forward.
“They don't get fazed by much and they really appreciate each other. They enjoy being around each other.”
So what don’t they do well?
“I think the one thing, if we have a weakness, when we feel the game is in our hands, we let up a little bit. That's unfortunate, but it's a little bit of who we are,” Kelly admitted. “And I'd like to have a little bit more of a killer instinct as a football coach…I look at our football team and they have so many other great qualities as a football team, that if that's our weakness where we feel like we've got the game in control, we'll try to work through that one.”
It’s unlikely to be an issue Saturday in Palo Alto, unless, of course, the Irish play far-and-away the best game of their season to date.
“We have a really, really good football team. Now they have to play well,” said Kelly. “The individuals, the “I” in the team part, these individuals gotta play really, really well. If they do that, they're going to win.
“I need to remind them that in big games the great players rise to the occasion. And so Will Fuller has to play great. Jaylon Smith's gotta play great. Sheldon Day has got to play great. Ronnie (Stanley) has got to play great. The great players have to step up. And for us to win they'll have to play great. If they do, we will. If they don't, we won't. It's that simple.”