Notre Dame football: Frosh backs factor in game plan

South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND - It’s not about a too-steep learning curve or road jitters or anything else college freshman football players typically have to overcome, Brian Kelly insists.

Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are simply in the midst of a numbers game, where only junior Amir Carlisle has really shown signs of separating from the rest of a five-man pack at Notre Dame.

Thus, when the 21st-ranked Irish (1-1) visit in-state rival Purdue (1-1) Saturday night (8 EDT; ABC-TV), the two freshmen are likely to be part of a deep rotation, just as they were in the opener against Temple two weeks ago.

Kelly, ND’s fourth-year head coach, on Thursday night didn’t rule out either one of them getting snaps this time in high-leverage situations early in the game. Then again, he didn’t guarantee it, either.

Neither got a carry in any situation during ND’s 41-30 loss at Michigan last Saturday night. Then again, there were only 19 carries to go around (including a sack of QB Tommy Rees) against the Wolverines. That’s tied for the second-fewest rushes in a game during the 41-game Kelly Era

“We like them both,” Kelly said of Folston and Bryant. “The game really will dictate their playing time. It was a different kind of game against Michigan. It was (about) protections. It was (being) split out as a receiver.

“But they’re going to be factors in the game plan. I mean, there are plays scripted for them this week. I couldn’t tell you when or where — how the game unfolds will really tell - — but they’re in the rotation.”

Carlisle leads the team in carries (19), yards (132) and average per carry (6.9). The rest of the rotation goes as follows: junior George Atkinson III (13-71, 5.5), junior Cam McDaniel (13-69, 5.3), Folston (5-14, 2.8) and Bryant (2-12, 6.0).

“They’re not being held back,” Kelly said of the freshmen. “The game itself and the way the game is played would determine how many running backs that you can get in the game. I’m not just going to shuffle four, five guys in there if we’re in a game where I want to do a specific thing offensively. It really depends upon how the game unfolds.

“I have confidence in all those guys.”

Personnel matters

 • Notre Dame freshman quarterback Malik Zaire may finally see the field, or at least be cleared to play for the first time this season, when the Irish visit Purdue Saturday night.

Zaire missed the first two ND games this season while recovering from mononucleosis, but he did travel to Ann Arbor for the Michigan game last Saturday, knowing he would not be put in the game under any circumstances.

And now?

“Malik got some practice in, but we haven’t gotten him officially cleared yet (for the game),” Kelly said Thursday of the third QB option. “He’s day to day right now. It’ll be a game-time decision on him.”

•Senior TJ Jones, ND’s leading receiver and punt returner, showed no ill effects this week in practice from a slight right shoulder sprain he suffered in and played through in the 41-30 loss to Michigan. The same goes for starting quarterback Tommy Rees and the bruised knee he suffered against the Wolverines.

“There was nothing in terms of cartilage or ligament or strains,” Kelly said of Rees. “So he was fine all week. He looked good.”

And then Kelly smiled big.

“We’re probably going to try to run him 15, 20 times this week,” he quipped of his notoriously non-running QB.

Kelly said there were no other injuries during the week, though some players required IVs to deal with dehydration brought on by the extreme heat.

•An offensively challenged Purdue team just got thrown another challenge this week. The nation’s No. 116th team in total offense (out of 123 in the FBS) will be without leading receiver, senior tight end Gabe Holmes, not only Saturday against the Irish but likely for the rest of the season after suffering a serious wrist injury.

Purdue coach Darrell Hazell confirmed the severity of the injury Thursday night on his weekly radio show. He also said it’s possible Holmes would elect to take a medical redshirt year and return to the Boilermakers in 2014.

The 6-foot-5, 243-pound Holmes had nine receptions for 69 yards on a team that had caught just 33 passes this season. Last season, the Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas grad garnered 25 catches for 158 yards.

Junior Justin Sinz (three catches, 19 yards) moves to the top of the tight end depth chart against the Irish.

Remembering Tripucka

Long before Kelly coached his first game at Notre Dame, he was well aware of the heightened status of Tripucka …

Kelly Tripucka.

What Brian Kelly didn’t know was that the three-time All-America ND men’s basketball player and connection to the school’s most recent Final Four in that sport (1978) was actually the son of Irish football legend Frank Tripucka, the latter of whom died Thursday morning of congenital heart failure at age 85.

Frank Tripucka was the starting quarterback on the 1948 Irish team that went 9-0-1 and finished No. 2 in the final AP poll. The eventual first-round NFL draft choice spent the previous three seasons behind Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Lujack on the Irish depth chart.

“I found out about Frank and the legend that he was,” Kelly said. “Obviously, it’s a sad time for the Notre Dame football family, but just a great man and will be sorely missed.”

Blackhawks visit

Even the Boston Bruins fan in Kelly enjoyed having the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks attend Irish football practice on Wednesday.

And apparently the feeling was mutual, as the several Blackhawks players tried on ND’s gold football helmets as they toured the locker room and took pictures with them on.

The team, which beat Kelly’s Bruins four games to two in the 2013 Stanley Cup Final in June, is in town training at ND’s Compton Family Ice Arena, Wednesday through Sunday, for the opening of their training camp. They’ll move training camp to home ice at the United Center on Monday.

“I think anytime you’re around a champion, it brings out a lot of energy,” Kelly said. “They were out at practice, and John McDonough, the president and CEO, got a chance to speak to the team.

“Obviously, great ties and connections with Stan Bowman, the GM, being a Notre Dame grad, having him around, and Joel Quenneville (head coach). They’re champions, they’re winners and we like to have winners around us, so it was great to have them at the practice.”

Notre Dame's Greg Bryant during the Notre Dame vs. Michigan game on Saturday, Sept. 7, 2013, at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor, Mich.