Notre Dame getting healthy in preparation for Syracuse

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Thirty-six victories and nearly four years have passed since the Nightmare against Navy – Notre Dame’s 35-17, not-as-close-as-the-final-score-indicated loss to the Midshipmen – but with a return trip this weekend to the scene of the loss, MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., fifth-year Irish coach Brian Kelly knew the topic would be dredged up.

“We’re not playing Navy, which was a long afternoon,” Kelly said Thursday night after his eighth-ranked and 3-0 Irish finished preparations for 2-1 Syracuse Saturday night (8 p.m. Eastern, ABC). “I knew it would be brought up at some time. For me, it’s Syracuse and getting back to New York more so than the horrors of that afternoon.”

Not only are the Irish getting back to the Big Apple, they’re also getting back some key performers following last week’s bye.

Starting cornerback Cole Luke, who missed the second half of the Sept. 13 victory over Purdue with a head injury, is cleared to play. Safety Austin Collinsworth, who missed the first three games because of a knee injury, practiced all week and Kelly saw improvement every day. Kelly anticipates the fifth-year senior will play in a limited role and sees Collinsworth playing as many as 20 snaps, although that number will likely sit in the teens.

Sophomore wide receiver Torii Hunter, out since preseason camp with a groin tear, turned a corner this week when he extended in the air and landed on his left leg.

“After that catch, it looked like he had kind of broken through that barrier,” Kelly said, “because he looked pretty good today.”

Investigation update

A resolution to the academic fraud investigation may be near. Kelly said that hearings likely will be held Tuesday and Wednesday for the five players who cannot play or practice until the investigation is complete.

Kelly is not certain if all five players – wide receiver DaVaris Daniels, cornerback KeiVarae Russell, defensive end Ishaq Williams, linebacker Kendall Moore and safety Eilar Hardy -- will go in front of the same committee, which will be composed of faculty and students.

“I don’t know the specifics, nor have I quite frankly asked,” Kelly said.

Line dance

Kelly confirmed Thursday night that the offensive line changes he discussed Tuesday will be in place against Syracuse.

Christian Lombard and Steve Elmer flip spots on the right side, with Lombard moving to tackle and Elmer to guard. Matt Hegarty takes over at center, with former center Nick Martin sliding to left guard. Ronnie Stanley remains the one constant at left tackle.

With Hegarty relatively new at center, he will receive some help from the more established Martin in making calls.

“It’ll allow him to keep his eye on essentially snapping and execution,” Kelly said. “Matt’s got his hands full with taking care of his own position so we’ll give him a little help with Nick.”

Good bye

With last week’s bye coming relatively early, three weeks into the season, Kelly believes that the timing was good for his young team. Notre Dame’s depth chart this week lists seven starters who are either freshmen or sophomores

“I think that if you have a team that, maybe next year, where we have 19 seniors or 21 seniors, you start off, you probably want to just roll, keep playing," Kelly said. "Every year brings a different group and a different set of personalities and a different group of strengths and weaknesses. I think this year it happened at the right time.”

Notre Dame’s second bye comes Oct. 25, which is sandwiched between games against Florida State and Navy.

Looking ahead

Kelly may be one guy not be on the sidelines for the 2024-25 Notre Dame-Texas A&M series that was announced Thursday.

“I’ll be sipping a Mai Tai on the beach somewhere, watching that game,” the 52-year-old Kelly quipped.

Notre Dame officials announced Thursday afternoon that a home-and-home series against Texas A&M has been scheduled for 2024 and 2025. The Irish will play at College Station, Texas on Aug. 31, 2024 with the Aggies playing in South Bend on Sept. 27, 2025. It will be the first meeting between the programs since 2001.

“These two contests between Notre Dame and Texas A&M figure to be excellent intersectional attractions,” Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick said in a statement. “We had set a goal of adding representation from the Southeastern Conference to our future schedules, and we’ve accomplished that with the addition of this series, as well as the one with Georgia.”

Notre Dame previously had scheduled series against Georgia (2017 and 2019) and Ohio State (2022 and 2023).

Irish officials also confirmed Thursday that the 2019 and 2020 games against Texas have been canceled. The teams will play in 2015 and 2016. The Austin American-Statesman reported that Notre Dame will pay Texas a one-time fee of $150,000 to cancel the final two games of the series.

After missing the first three games of the 2014 season with a knee injury, safety Austin Collinsworth is expected to play Saturday against Syracuse.SBT File Photo