Notre Dame football reels after 'tremendous loss' of another captain: Bo Bauer
SOUTH BEND — Fifth-year senior Bo Bauer, the beloved linebacker and special teams demon who was named a Notre Dame team captain, suffered a season-ending knee injury at practice on Tuesday.
Irish coach Marcus Freeman, who made the announcement Thursday on his weekly video news conference, called the injury “devastating” for a team that will ride a three-game winning streak into Saturday night’s home game against Stanford.
“You hurt so much for a guy like Bo that gives everything to this place,” Freeman said. “He’s an emotional leader. He’s a captain. He’s unselfish. He provides so much more than just production: the energy, the ability to motivate our players. It’s going to be a tremendous loss for us.”
Bauer had seen his defensive snap count cut significantly since averaging nearly 25 plays in the two losses to start the season. Limited to just six plays on defense in the win over BYU, he still made a saving tackle at the goal line late in the opening quarter.
On special teams, Bauer remained a core contributor on the four main coverage and return units.
Of the six Irish captains named in late August, all but two (Michael Mayer and Isaiah Foskey) have missed time due to injury or penalty-related suspension. Sixth-year senior wide receiver Avery Davis blew out his knee midway through training camp, and fourth-year starting offensive lineman Jarrett Patterson missed the Ohio State loss with a sprained foot.
In addition, linebacker JD Bertrand, the team’s leading tackler last season, missed the first half of the two most recent games (at North Carolina and in Las Vegas against the Cougars) after being hit with targeting penalties that carried over.
With Bauer out, Freeman said that could mean an increased role for to sophomore Prince Kollie, who has been backing up weakside linebacker Marist Liufau, and freshman Junior Tuihalamaka, who has flashed on special teams and in limited snaps at middle linebacker.
TaRiq Bracy still questionable
Fifth-year slot cornerback TaRiq Bracy (strained right hamstring) remains questionable after returning to practice on Wednesday.
“I think he’ll go,” Freeman said. “I hope he’ll be able to go, but how long and how much is still to be determined.”
Bracy has rarely come off the field through the first five games. His potential absence opens the door for freshman Jaden Mickey and junior safety Ramon Henderson to see more time in slot coverage and for redshirt freshman Ryan “Bo” Barnes to join the game-day rotation at cornerback.
More Notre Dame football coverage:From practice field standout to game playmaker: The evolution of WR Jayden Thomas
Defensive tackle Howard Cross III, who missed the Shamrock Series win with a high ankle sprain, was able to practice more on Wednesday than he did on Tuesday and remains on track to play against the Cardinal.
Saturday marks the midpoint of the regular season, but the Irish defense is still looking for its first batted ball.
Those won’t be any easier to come by against 6-foot-6 quarterback Tanner McKee, but Freeman still wants to see that aspect improve. Last season, when Freeman was the defensive coordinator, Notre Dame was credited with eight batted balls, including two apiece for Bauer and lineman Jayson Ademilola.
From 2018-21, the Irish had 35 batted balls, including 10 apiece in 2020 and 2018. Khalid Kareem, now with the Cincinnati Bengals, had the highest season total in that span with five in 2018.
“We have to continue to preach it, we have to practice it more in hopes that in the game you’ll have some pass deflections,” Freeman said. “An important part of playing defense is being able to disrupt the ball, no matter if you’re not able to sack the quarterback or truly get a hit on him. You’ve got to be able to try to bat some balls down. That’s an area we have to improve at.”
The Irish also hope to generate more pass rush without having to send blitzing linebackers and defensive backs. Despite a No. 26 national rank in pass rush efficiency, according to Pro Football Focus, the Irish have seen their secondary burned multiple times this season when the blitz failed.
“We have to get four-man pass rush,” Freeman said. “If you have to blitz guys to get pressure on the quarterback, you’re going to put your defense at a disadvantage. Are we improving? Yes. Are we at the standard and the level we need to be at? No.”
Freeman said first-year defensive line coach Al Washington “is working tirelessly to put those guys in positions where we can create more rush.”
Defensive end Rylie Mills had two sacks in the Sept. 24 win at UNC, but Kollie and fellow linebacker Jack Kiser had the only sacks against BYU.
“Are we going to go straight, are we going to run some different games and stunts?” Freeman said. “And who is our best pass rusher? There’s continuous evaluation of putting guys in positions that they can have success in rushing the quarterback."
Foskey, a preseason All-America defensive end who has drawn extra attention from opponents, has been held to just three sacks but does lead the Irish with 18 total pressures.
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino and on TikTok @mikeberardinoNDI.