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Irish optimistic on Hunter return

Torii Hunter Jr. will practice in full on Tuesday. If all goes according to plan, the Irish will have their receiving corps back at full strength on Saturday night against Michigan State.

The question was ridiculous yet contained traces of a legitimate inquiry.

Brian Kelly was actually asked Sunday why quarterback DeShone Kizer struggled against Nevada despite completing 15-of-18 passes for 156 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Yet the tail of that question also wondered why Kizer hadn’t been able to connect on any deep balls against the Wolf Pack.

“I had a bad day calling deep passes,” Kelly said. “Most of it was just poor play calling.”

Yet there’s an honest discussion to be had about Notre Dame’s deep passing game, which has yet to get on track this season. And there’s an honest answer why it didn’t happen against Nevada. Down its top wide receiver, the Irish had to dial back their passing game.

It appears that won’t be a concern against Michigan State.

After missing the home opener with a concussion suffered at Texas, Hunter will return to practice in full on Tuesday. If all goes according to plan, the captain will suit up against the Spartans this Saturday night.

“He is in the last step of what we call our protocol, which is a controlled practice setting on Tuesday,” Kelly said. “He goes through full practice on Tuesday.”

Down Hunter, the Irish did struggle to stretch the field vertically. Notre Dame’s longest pass was Kizer’s 49-yarder to Equanimeous St. Brown in the first quarter, but even that was an intermediate pass, caught short of the first down marker on 2nd-and-17. The sophomore took it from there.

St. Brown also had a 25-yard reception in the second quarter, but that was a four-yard route plus a 21-yard run.

Against Texas, Kizer went 1-of-6 on throws of 20 yards on more. The lone completion was St. Brown’s acrobatic touchdown in the first half.

Perhaps the Irish simply won’t be a deep ball team based on personnel this season.

That doesn’t mean they won’t be deep.

Kevin Stepherson, Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Corey Holmes all made their first career catches. Miles Boykin was actually targeted at Texas, meaning he’s already part of Notre Dame’s game plans.

“Stepherson is a little bit further ahead because he was here in the spring. So he got a little bit more knowledge of the offense,” Kelly said. “Claypool is coming along. But it's going to be a process for both of them. But they're making pretty good progress in terms of understanding everything that we do as true freshmen.

“If you had asked me whether I'm pleased or not I'd say overall I'm pleased with the progress they're making. Can they play every play yet? No. But I think they're going to be able to contribute because we've got enough depth that neither one of them is going to be asked to play 72 snaps.”

Against Michigan State, the Notre Dame passing game shouldn’t even have to ask, as long as Hunter continues his road to recovery. Top Stories