Notre Dame football: Day of attrition for ND defense

ERIC HANSEN
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- Kona Schwenke left Notre Dame Stadium Saturday in a protective boot cradling his left foot, knowing he had just produced the biggest statistical game of his life.

A largely behind-the-scenes type fill-in for nose guard Louis Nix and defensive Sheldon Day when injuries shuttled them out of the lineup this season, the senior from Hauula Hawaii was the bright light Saturday on an otherwise regressive defensive day as Notre Dame survived Navy, 38-34, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Schwenke recorded 11 tackles, four more than his previous career high and three more than he has amassed in eight games combined this season before leaving with what appeared to be an ankle injury late in the game.

“He was playing well,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He was battling his butt off in there.”

It was a day of attrition for the ND defense, which also lost outside linebacker Ben Councell and defensive end Sheldon Day and was playing without projected starters nose guard Louis Nix and outside linebacker/defensive end Ishaq Williams.

“I'm reminded of that scene in -- I think it was Apollo (13), where there's a scene in the movie where they're having troubles in the capsule because there's CO2, and they have to figure out a way to bring that level of CO2 down,” Kelly said.

“I showed a clip of it. They throw all this stuff on the table to all of these guys in mission control, and they say, ‘You guys have got to figure out with all this stuff here, how to get this done.’ That's what we did this week. We threw it all on the table, and we figured out how to get it done. That's why I'm proud of the guys.

“We didn't complain about it. It's part of the game. Injuries happen. You've just got to find a way to get it done, and they did. We'll find a way to get it done.”

Personnel matters

*Irish fifth-year senior Zack Martin made his 48th career start Saturday, tying him for second-most in school history with safety Tom Zbikowski and linebacker Maurice Crum.

Martin is on pace to break Sam Young’s school record of 50 in ND’s regular season finale, Nov. 30 at Stanford.

*Eighteen-year old sophomore Romeo Okwara made his first college start Saturday. The outside linebacker was filling in for injured junior Ishaq Williams (knee) and played end in ND’s 4-3 look against Navy’s triple-option offense.

He got his first career sack late in the first quarter.

*Junior Conor Hanratty made his first collegiate start, taking the place of fifth-year senior Chris Watt at left guard.

“He did a great job,” Martin said. “I tried to communicate with him, and there wasn’t a time in the game today where I was wondering where he was at or wondering what he was doing.

“He was pretty much in the right spot and doing his job. Another example of a guy who, when his number is called, doing a great job.”

Notable numbers

*TJ Jones caught a TD pass for the sixth consecutive game and is now two games away from trying the school record shared by Jeff Samardzija and Golden Tate.

His four pass receptions Saturday vaulted him over Golden Tate and Tom Gatewood into fourth place in ND’s career receptions list with now only 1. Michael Floyd, 2. Jeff Samardija and 3. Rhema McKnight ahead of him.

Jones was unaware he was in such rare company.

“Fourth place for?” he said initially. “Those are obviously great names to be associated with, Through my four years I’ve just matured. And I think I’m maturing on and off the field. I’m a better man around my teammates and my coaches have helped me make the plays when my number’s called.”

*Junior tight end Ben Koyack had his third TD in the past four games Saturday after going scoreless in his first 29 career games.

Squibs

*ND used two large dryers after rolling back the tarp a couple of hours before game time in an attempt to dry some potential trouble spots on the field. Shortly thereafter, it rained fairly steady before clearing in time for kickoff.

The field, resodded three times in the past eight months, though, had lots of slick spots, including one where Irish receiver TJ Jones slipped resulting in a Navy interception.

“FieldTurf is never a bad thing,” Jones said. “I like the grass and the tradition that Notre Dame Stadium has, but if FieldTurf came in, I wouldn’t be mad.”

Kelly complimented ND grounds crew, but not ND grounds.

“It's a lot more of a complex problem than just a couple of years here,” he said. “It's going to be resolved. It will be handled. (Athletic director) Jack Swarbrick will take care of it. It will be handled.

“It's not an easy fix. This is not just roll out some grass and tamp it down. So it will be something that will have to be worked on in the off-season, looked at extensively, and we'll come up with a solution.”

*A confusing set of events turned a fourth-down situation for Navy into a first down and eventually a score just before the half.

Matthias Farley knocked Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds out of bounds on third down, two yards short of a first down in Navy territory, when Irish backup defensive end Justin Utupo was originally flagged for targeting, which carries an automatic ejection.

A few moments later, the penalty was changed by the American Athletic Conference officiating crew to unnecessary roughness, but Irish head coach Brian Kelly couldn’t decipher where and when a foul had occurred.

“I can't come up with the right word to figure this one out,” Kelly said. “I asked for three explanations. Three times I asked for an explanation on it, and I couldn't get a clear explanation other than it was not a targeting penalty because it was a run play. Of course, that wasn't my question. My question was why was it a personal foul? And it was never answered.”

*The Buffalo Bills were the lone NFL team scouting the game Saturday.

EHansen@SBTinfo.com 574-235-6112 Twitter: @hansenNDInsider

Notre Dame defensive lineman Sheldon Day (91) is attended to after an injury during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Nov. 2, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER