Notebook: Notre Dame's 'crazy man' Tranquill has no interest in sitting

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — It wasn’t meant to be a trick question, but it turned out that way.

Will Notre Dame grad senior linebacker Drue Tranquill practice this week and play a high volume of reps Saturday night at home against Florida State as if the high ankle sprain he suffered Oct. 27 versus Navy never occurred?

“Our training staff, myself in particular, (and defensive coordinator) Clark Lea would like to be judicious with his reps,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said. “We’ll see if crazy man Drue Tranquill will abide by that. We’ll see what happens. He doesn’t want to come off the field.”

Tranquill did come off the field in the first quarter against Navy and was replaced by triple-option-adept sophomore Drew White. Against Northwestern, sophomore Jordan Genmark Heath made his first collegiate start, but Tranquill played extensively in third-down packages and made five tackles.

“I’m not trying to be the doctor here,” Kelly said. “It really doesn’t matter what anybody says. It just matters what Drue says. Drue tells me he’s playing every down.

“He’s committed that he believes he is in a good position that he can play every down this weekend. We’ll see how he practices (Tuesday). He had no ill effects from the (Northwestern) game. Didn’t take a step back. Feels like he’s stronger.”

Change for a nickel?

A soft spot in a Notre Dame defense, that has otherwise ascended to the No. 25 spot nationally in total defense, continues to be coverage on slot receivers in ND’s nickel packages.

Freshman Houston Griffith has taken most of the reps there in recent weeks, but Kelly has at times nudged All-America candidate Julian Love inside and played freshman TaRiq Bracy on the outside.

That configuration may get more play on Saturday night.

“Bracy is back in a position where he’ll get a chance to compete for playing time this week,” Kelly said. “His traits are starting to show themselves to where I felt like he had a really good week last week.

“That will put him in a position where, if he has a good week this week, you could see him getting some playing time. But the nickel position has to be more productive for us. That still is going to focus on Houston and Nick Coleman.”

Kicking around a change

Sophomore kickoff specialist Jonathan Doerer kicked the ball out of bounds once Saturday at Northwestern, the third time that has happened this season. Low, short kickoffs, that tend to lead to long returns, have also been an intermittent problem.

Kelly has been reluctant to tax senior place-kicker Justin Yoon to do both jobs, but will consider doing so down the final stretch of games.

“I think we’re getting to that point now where the last two weeks, Northwestern and Navy decided they were going to fair-catch every ball,” Kelly said. “So teams are now figuring out, is it worth the risk of having a penalty or a fumble on a kickoff return that will put you before the 25-yard line?

“I think we can activate Justin if we need him to put a kick or two out of the back of the end zone, because we’re now at that part of the year where teams have made the decision that it’s probably not worth the risk to start a possession on the 11-yard line with a holding penalty.”

Senior Night numbers game

The way Notre Dame honors its seniors in their final home game, whether they’ve got a fifth-year option to return or not, makes it look sometimes like the Irish are losing half their roster.

Which is never the case.

The reality is ND has 12 players with expiring eligibility that will be among those honored on Senior Night this Saturday.

They are offensive linemen Sam Mustipher and Alex Bars, running back Dexter Williams, defensive linemen Jonathan Bonner and Jerry Tillery, linebackers Drue Tranquill and Te’von Coney, tight end Nic Weishar, safeties Nick Coleman and Nicco Fertitta, and kicking specialists Justin Yoon and Tyler Newsome.

Additionally, there are eight seniors with fifth-year options, some of whom will be back and some who won’t.

They are quarterback Brandon Wimbush, wide receivers Mikes Boykin and Chris Finke, tight end Alizé Mack, offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland, defensive lineman Micah Dew-Treadway, rover Asmar Bilal and cornerback Shaun Crawford.

Notre Dame’s Drue Tranquill suffered a high ankle sprain against Navy to go along with the hand he broke earlier in the year. The senior linebacker would still finish the season.Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA