Notre Dame must hope TaRiq Bracy recovers in time to face Stanford
SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame could be without its most experienced cornerback when facing Stanford’s dangerous passing attack on Saturday night.
Senior slot corner TaRiq Bracy, who injured his right hamstring in the final minutes of a 28-20 win over BYU, is questionable with a Grade 1 strain.
“It’s not really bad,” Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman said at his Monday news conference. “He’s kind of freaky athletically. Hopefully, he’ll bounce back.”
Bracy, who averaged 65 defensive snaps before the bye week and contributed on special teams as well, played through a virus against the Cougars. Bracy, who intercepted BYU quarterback Jaren Hall on the game's first play, missed just 10 of 46 defensive snaps as Notre Dame dominated time of possession.
“He was probably a little bit dehydrated,” Freeman said. “He was playing a lot of plays and running around there. I saw him (Sunday) and he was confident. He was a little bit sore.”
Tanner McKee, Stanford’s strong-armed junior quarterback, ranks second nationally in deep-passing efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus. The 6-foot-6 McKee, who turned 22 in April, has gone 11 of 18 for six touchdowns and no interceptions on passes that traveled 20 yards or more downfield.
Breakdowns and what-ifs?
Freshman Jaden Mickey and junior Clarence Lewis were limited to a combined 15 snaps against BYU but represent the top nickel-package options if Bracy can’t go.
Mickey, who gave up a go-ahead touchdown pass in man coverage at Ohio State, made a zone-coverage mistake that resulted in a 53-yard touchdown strike to BYU’s Kody Epps after the Irish had taken a 19-point lead.
“Jaden knew what he had to do,” Freeman said. “He had to carry (Epps) vertical and he didn’t do it. He was jumping a different route. We have to make sure that he understands you can’t jump the out route in Cover 2.”
Lewis, meanwhile, lost his starting job to freshman Ben Morrison three weeks into the season and has played just 17 defensive snaps the past two games. Lewis, whose streak of 19 consecutive starts had stretched back to the 2020 season, dropped an apparent pick-6 early in the second quarter against BYU.
Freeman offered praise for Lewis’ technique and attitude but lamented the missed opportunity for a game-altering score.
“That was a heck of a play,” he said. “It could have been almost a ‘SportsCenter’-type play. But you’ve got to make that catch and you’ve got to take it to the house.”
Prognosis for Howard Cross III
Junior defensive tackle Howard Cross III, meanwhile, is expected to play this week after missing the BYU game with a high ankle sprain.
Cross, tied for second on the team with 23 tackles, was able to practice some last week but his ankle didn’t respond well to pregame warmups at Allegiant Stadium.
“He just did not feel confident – him or the trainers – that he could execute what we needed him to do,” Freeman said.
Cross averaged 46 defensive snaps in the first four games, according to Pro Football Focus. That’s the same number of total defensive snaps Notre Dame had to play against the Cougars while dominating time of possession.
In Cross’ absence, interior linemen Chris Smith (28 defensive snaps), Gabriel Rubio (23) and Nana Osafo-Mensah (20) saw increased playing time and made two tackles each.
The book of huh?
Chasing points late in the first half is an unusual look for Notre Dame, but that’s what happened on a failed two-point conversion against BYU.
After taking an 18-6 lead on Jayden Thomas’ 30-yard touchdown grab with 1:03 left before halftime, the Irish went for two but saw Drew Pyne’s pass sail too high for Michael Mayer at the back of the end zone.
“At times I use the book,” Freeman said after the game. “There’s an analytics book. We knew at some point we would have to go for two. That’s kind of what the decision was. It was, ‘Hey, what does the book say right now? Book says go for two.’ I don’t always use it but at that moment I said, ‘OK, let’s use it.’ “
As it turned out, the Irish had to hold on for a 28-20 win after BYU rallied. A successful kick instead of the failed pass attempt would have given the Irish more breathing room with a two-score lead late in the game.
“I felt like we were having a rhythm; we were going,” Freeman said. “We felt confident in the two-point play. We didn’t execute. … Those are decisions you have to make. You have to trust your instincts and don’t look back.”
After scoring touchdowns on 10 of its first 12 trips into the red zone this season, Notre Dame went 1 for 4 in that area against BYU. The Irish settled for short field goals after reaching the Cougars’ 8- and 2-yard-lines, and Audric Estime was stopped on fourth-and-1 from the 4 midway through the second quarter.
Pyne also threw his first interception as the starter after reaching the BYU 26 early in the final quarter, but that doesn’t count against Notre Dame’s red-zone efficiency. The Irish fell from a tie for 10th nationally (83 percent) to 46th after the BYU game dropped their touchdown-conversion rate to 69 percent.
Stanford (1-4) vs. Notre Dame (3-2)
When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Notre Dame Stadium (77,660), South Bend, Indiana
TV/Radio: NBC/Peacock, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM)
Line: Notre Dame favored by 15½ points
Series: Notre Dame leads series 22-13
Last meeting: ND 45, Stanford 14, Nov. 27, 2021 in Palo Alto, Calif.
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.