Notebook: Notre Dame shuffles lineup with LB Greer Martini out for USC game

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Linebacker Greer Martini’s day-to-day status is now week-to-week, meaning Notre Dame’s third-leading tackler is out for Saturday night’s clash between the 13th-ranked Irish (5-1) and visiting, No. 11 USC (6-1).

ND head coach Brian Kelly revealed Thursday after practice that the senior captain underwent arthroscopic knee surgery last Thursday during the bye week to repair a small meniscus tear.

“He’s moving around pretty good today, but we would be rushing to get him back,” Kelly said. “We’ll hold him out this week, but we feel really confident we’ll get him back next week.”

Junior Te’von Coney, Martini’s time-share partner at the “buck” linebacker position, will see an increase in game reps, Kelly said. Coney, primarily a starter in 2016, actually made his first start of this season Oct. 7 in a 33-10 romp at North Carolina

Coney is ND’s second-leading tackler with 42.

Sophomore Jamir Jones may work into the inside linebacker rotation, per Kelly. Senior rover Drue Tranquill is an option as well, with junior Asmar Bilal then taking Tranquill’s spot at the rover.

Elsewhere on the injury front, Kelly said running back Dexter Williams could return to action Saturday night for the first time since ND’s 38-18 win at Michigan State on Sept. 23, but if he did, he would be very limited.

The 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior is ND’s No. 2 back behind junior Josh Adams and is averaging 10.7 yards a carry with four rushing TDs, but his chronic ankle injury has limited him to just 20 carries this season.

Kelly said third-teamer Tony Jones Jr., who’s been battling ankle issues himself over the past month, is back to 100 percent.

Starting right guard Alex Bars, who missed most of the North Carolina win with an ankle injury, “is functioning at a high level without any limitations.”

Turning the corner?

Saturday night will be starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s first game action since ND’s 52-17 rout of Miami (Ohio) on Sept. 30.

A week out with a foot strain and another week off because of the bye seemed to agree with the junior first-year starter.

“This was his best day since he’s been here,” Kelly said of Wimbush’s Thursday practice, “and a lot of it was he’s starting to see things quicker.”

Wimbush has been prolific as a runner (402 yards on 68 carries with eight rushing TDs), but has been inconsistent in the passing game (96th in passing efficiency at 114.0 ratings points).

“We can move the ball in (the) two-minute (drill),” Kelly cited as a tangible example of the difference he was seeing in the 6-2, 228-pound junior recently. “We couldn’t even get a first down throughout the entire camp and into the first five weeks (of the season) during two-minute. We were three-and-out.

“We move the ball down the field now in two-minute, and that’s a huge accomplishment.”

Kelly said the Irish coaches haven’t simplified the offense or altered it in any way. It’s just a matter of Wimbush processing it better.

“It’s getting near that point of conscious competence,” Kelly said, “where (Wimbush) sees it, he knows what it is. And now if we can go build that a little bit more with the receivers, we’ll be in pretty good shape.

“He’s going to get better and better. I know I’ve been saying that, but his level of play will get better and better as the weeks go on.”

By the numbers

USC has scored at least 20 points in 180 of its past 205 contests, and at least 27 in every game this season.

The Notre Dame defense, meanwhile, is one of only four FBS teams that hasn’t yielded more than 20 points in any game this season. The others are Washington, Michigan and Penn State.

• Both the Irish and USC have huge edges over their opponents in fourth quarters this season. ND has outscored its opponents in that period, 55-27, while USC holds a 99-54 command.

The Trojans have been tied or trailing going into the fourth quarter in four of their games in 2017 and have won them all.

• USC represents the 11th ranked opponent Kelly has faced in Notre Dame Stadium in his eight-season run, with all 11 being ranked between Nos. 11 and 18.

He has a 6-4 mark in those games, having lost the last two.

• Since Notre Dame ended its self-imposed bowl hiatus in 1969, every season the Irish have played on Oct. 21 has seen them advance to a major bowl game: 2006 Sugar, 2000 Fiesta, 1995 Orange, 1989 Orange, 1978 Cotton, 1972 Orange.

• Not everything USC quarterback Sam Darnold, a projected first-round NFL draft pick, can be summed up in his passing-efficiency numbers. But after finishing ninth nationally last season (161.1), he finds himself 43rd (141.5) heading into the ND game.

In terms of QBs on the Irish schedule, he ranks fifth. Miami’s (Fla.) Malik Rosier is fourth (146.1, 38th overall), N.C. State’s Ryan Finley third (150.7, 24th), Wake Forest’s John Wolford second (152.1, 21st) and — surprise, surprise — Georgia freshman Jake Fromm first (170.4, sixth).

Squibs

Kelly on Thursday was one of 20 coaches named to the Dodd Trophy Watch list for national Coach of the Year.

Six coaches Kelly and the Irish face this season also made the list: Michigan State’s Mark Dantonio, N.C. State’s Dave Doeren, Navy’s Ken Niumatalolo, Miami’s Mark Richt, Georgia’s Kirby Smart and Saturday’s opposing coach, Clay Helton.

• The ND-USC game is the highest-priced ticket on the secondary market, specifically the Vivid Seats website. The average ticket is going for $298.

Michigan at Penn State is next at $262.

Notre Dame’s Greer Martini (48) runs after making an interception during the Miami (Ohio) at Notre Dame  game at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend on Saturday (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)