Notre Dame returns to action after bye week

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND --Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly knows what Navy will try to do offensively when the teams play Saturday night. As valuable as knowing what's coming is, however, stopping it isn't so easy.

"That option is very difficult to defend," said Kelly, whose sixth-ranked and 6-1 Irish play 4-4 Navy Saturday night at FedEx Field in Landover, Md. "They know their strength and execute it very well."

Notre Dame is playing for the first time since suffering its first loss, a 31-27 loss at Florida State on Oct. 18. Kelly said his players have not sulked over pass-interference penalty inside the final minute that wiped out a go-ahead touchdown.

"They weren't pointing fingers or looking for excuses," Kelly said. "They knew they needed to make one more play."

The key matchup figures to come when Navy has the ball. The Midshipmen rank first nationally with an average of 352.3 rushing yards per-game while ND ranks 12th in run defense as it allows 102.7 yards on the ground per game.

"It's a difficult game and we understand the challenge in front of us," Kelly said. "We've got a lot of work to do this week but we're up for the challenge."

In injury news, linebacker Ben Councell and tight end Tyler Luatua are cleared to return after being sidelined with concussions.

Safety Austin Collinsworth, who suffered a shoulder injury in the Oct. 11 victory over North Carolina and was expected to miss 4-6 weeks, practiced Monday. Kelly said he wore a harness on the shoulder, but a return this weekend seemed questionable.

Kelly also said Tuesday that safety Eilar Hardy, one of the five players who were sidelined because of the school's academic fraud investigation, is back practicing. Kelly said that Hardy has a chance to evolve into more than a practice player this season.

Kelly also has spoken with DaVaris Daniels, one of the four who will not play this season because of the investigation. Daniels recently said that he is moving on from ND, but teammate KeiVarae Russell, who is out this season but will return next season, wrote on Instagram recently that Daniels likely will return next year. Kelly said Tuesday that the conversations have been about immediate issues, but not about the possibility of coming back next year.

Kelly said he has not had conversations with the school's administration concerning self-sanctions, particularly vacating victories because of the investigation.

Notre Dame remains No. 7 in the Coaches poll released Sunday. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)