Notebook: Can Notre Dame's Torii Hunter Jr. be a big hit this weekend too?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Brian Kelly didn’t hesitate when assessing whether Torii Hunter Sr. or Jr. had the bigger potential weekend ahead of him.

“It’s Junior,” the Notre Dame head football coach said with a big smile. “I don’t know what Senior is doing. He should be watching his son play.”

Actually, outfielder Torii Hunter Sr. and the rest of the Detroit Tigers have a scheduled day off Saturday from their American League Division Series with Baltimore. The Orioles took a 1-0 series lead Thursday night with a 12-3 victory with Hunter Sr. going 0-for-4.

So if their travel itinerary relents, maybe the 39-year-old right fielder will be able to catch a glimpse of the Separation Saturday clash between No. 9 Notre Dame (4-0) and 14th-ranked Stanford (3-1) at ND Stadium.

It will be just the second collegiate game for Junior, a 6-foot-190-pound sophomore wide receiver whose injury-laced career finally lifted off last Saturday night at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford N.J., with a 13-yard TD on his first collegiate catch late in ND’s 31-15 conquest of Syracuse.

Hunter Jr., backed up C.J. Prosise at slot receiver in that game, and actually carried the ball twice for 13 yards out of the backfield.

“I think it was very important for his confidence to get in the game and actually compete,” Kelly said Thursday after practice. “You could see it happen this week — happen meaning you could see his confidence come back.

“His cuts in and out of the breaks — that weren’t necessarily there last week — were there this week.”

Hunter missed all of the 2013 season while recovering from a slow-healing broken leg and missed the first three games of this season and all but two days of August training camp with a torn groin.

With starting slot receiver Amir Carlisle expected to return from a knee injury after a one-game absence and get back into the rotation at his position, Hunter moved outside this week and worked behind sophomore Will Fuller, ND’s leading receiver (25 receptions, 344 yards, 5 TDs).

“We’d like to take Will’s (reps) down a bit,” Kelly said. “His volume is ridiculously high. If we can keep him fresh, we think we can get the ball down the field a little bit more to him. But we have to pick our spots.

“If we can get Torii out there and take some of (Fuller’s) reps down, we think that’s going to help us in the long run.”

Personnel matters

• Kelly said he believes the Irish can get some limited but meaningful snaps Saturday out of grad student safety Austin Collinsworth, projected to be a starter before a knee injury, suffered two days before the Aug. 30 season opener, sidelined him for the first four games.

“Collinsworth was good this week,” Kelly said. “I liked the way he practiced. He was not tentative like he was last week. He should be able to help us.”

• Kelly also liked the way quarterback Everett Golson responded in practice this week to his four-turnover night against Syracuse.

“I think that his practice this week was that he was very cognizant and aware of the things he needs to improve on,” Kelly said. “He certainly understands that he can’t turn the football over.

“And I think that, as a coach, that’s what you want from your player. You don’t want a guy who’s just laughing it off, saying, ‘That won’t happen again to me.’ He was very concerned about it, and I thought he was on top of it.”

Stanford, with the nation’s No. 5 pass-efficiency defense (and No. 1 in passing yards allowed), is the first team ranked in the top 40 in that category Golson will face this season.

He did face four elite pass defenses, though, as a starter in 2012 — No. 3 Michigan State, No. 12 Oklahoma, No. 16 Alabama and No. 21 Pittsburgh. Golson sat out with an injury in ND’s victory over BYU and the nation’s No. 19 pass defense.

Back burner

Through a fresh barrage of questions regarding Notre Dame’s Frozen Five, Kelly ducked and weaved and kept trying to circle back to his mantra that this Saturday’s game with Stanford was foremost on his mind.

The closest thing to fresh information Thursday night was Kelly confirming his belief that the five suspended players at the center of the school’s ongoing academic fraud investigation would be concluded by Friday and that Notre Dame would likely make its ruling sometime next week.

Starters KeiVarae Russell, Ishaq Williams, DaVaris Daniels and reserve Kendall Moore have been held out of games, practices and meetings since Aug. 15. Backup safety Eilar Hardy joined them in limbo on Aug. 28.

Here are the most significant snippets of Kelly’s thought’s Thursday night, 66 days into the process.

On cornerback Russell taking to Instagram to voice his frustration with the length of the process: “I feel for them,” he said. “Again, I think my role in this whole thing is to try to keep our guys together, the guys that are on the field.

“I can certainly understand how he can be frustrated, but, hopefully, we’re nearing an end here. And we’re hoping that we get him back soon.”

On whether Kelly himself is frustrated: “I don’t know that frustrated is a word that I would use. For me, I feel for my players. I feel bad for them.

“They’re missing a significant amount of playing time, and that’s hard. You miss a game when you’re 18, 19, 20 years old, that’s catastrophic. I understand what they’re going through. I know it must be difficult.”

On communication with the five players? “I have not talked to any of the players directly that have been through the process.”

On advice he’d give the players: “Focus on academics. (The process) is really out of their hands. It’s nothing they can control. … They got a chance to go through the hearing. Control what you can control in the hearing.

“I think they’ve all done what they can do. The rest will be decided and, again, I think we’ll a resolution real, real soon.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame's Torii Hunter Jr. made his college debut against Syracuse, Saturday at MetLife Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J. He hopes to encore this Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)