Cam Hart's injury could give Notre Dame freshman Jaden Mickey more chances in homecoming finale at USC
SOUTH BEND — Freshman cornerbacks Benjamin Morrison and Jaden Mickey were together as they walked off Sunday’s practice field ahead of this season-ending showdown with fifth-ranked USC.
Notre Dame coach Marcus Freeman and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens took note and nodded in approval.
“I just started laughing,” Freeman said. “I said to coach Mickens: ‘That’s what you want.’ Two young guys that are really close, that are going to push each other, that support each other.”
Senior cornerback Cam Hart (shoulder) is listed as questionable, so Mickey could use a little extra guidance before this homecoming against Trojans quarterback Caleb Williams, wide receiver Jordan Addison and one of the nation’s most prolific passing offenses.
While Morrison has surged within one of the national leaders with five interceptions over his past three games, Mickey has struggled through what Freeman termed “growing pains,” including a midseason abductor strain and season-long coverage issues.
Despite being on the field for just 153 defensive snaps — nearly a quarter of Hart’s team-high total (568) — Mickey has allowed completions on eight of 11 passes to his coverage area, including three touchdowns (at Ohio State, vs. BYU and vs. Navy).
Mickey had yet to be credited with his first pass breakup, although he did thwart a two-point conversion attempt from Drake Maye to Josh Downs in the Week 4 win at North Carolina.
USC edge rusher Korey Foreman, who made the game-saving interception in last weekend’s 48-45 thriller against UCLA, was a year ahead of Mickey at Compton’s Centennial High School. That’s 9 miles south of the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
“I know he’s looking forward to going back to California,” Freeman said. “As a freshman he’s learning it isn’t always peachy, but he’s grown tremendously in his first season. This is going to help him. It’s making him better.”
Mickey played 30 defensive snaps against Boston College, and Freeman said he would “get an opportunity to play just as much” against USC. Depending on Hart’s availability, the chances for redemption could be even more plentiful.
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Brandon Joseph upgraded to probable for USC game
Playmaking safety Brandon Joseph is probable to return this week after missing two games with a high-ankle sprain. The Northwestern transfer originally suffered the injury in the first half against Clemson.
Senior defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola, who missed the Boston College game while in concussion protocol, is probable for USC, Freeman said. So are backup tight end Mitch Evans and senior edge rusher Isaiah Foskey, who played sparingly after breaking the school’s career sack record on the final play of the first half against the Eagles.
Evans hobbled off the field in Saturday’s first half with an ankle sprain but later returned. Evans, who finished with 33 offensive snaps against Boston College, is a key blocker and has become an internet sensation with his deft work in short-yardage situations while taking center snaps in the so-called “Mitch-a-Palooza” formation.
Freshman wideout Tobias Merriweather, however, could miss a third straight game as he works back from concussion protocol. Merriweather is listed as “questionable,” Freeman said.
Bowl return possible for Tyler Buchner
Freshman quarterback Steve Angeli was not among the season-high 69 players Notre Dame used in the 44-0 Senior Day win over Boston College. That was no accidental oversight.
“It was very intentional to not play him this past game,” Freeman said. “We made a decision a couple weeks ago when he played in his second game (at Syracuse). If we can redshirt Steve Angeli, we will.”
Angeli has been on the field for a total of seven snaps all season, including one where he stood in the backfield and watched Evans score on a quarterback sneak against UNLV. Angeli, a three-star recruit from Westfield, N.J., has yet to throw a pass, but he would be the only alternative against USC should starter Drew Pyne have to leave the game.
Potential redshirts can appear in up to four games without using up a season of eligibility.
Meanwhile, Opening Night starter Tyler Buchner may have accelerated the pace of his return from mid-September surgery on his left (nonthrowing) shoulder. According to Freeman, Notre Dame’s medical staff hasn’t ruled out a bowl game appearance for Buchner, who recently resumed noncontact drills in practice despite an original projection of a mid-January return.
“Our docs are not 100% sure,” Freeman said. “That will be based on how he progresses over these next couple weeks, when he’s practicing more. We’ll see. If it’s what’s best for him and he can be full-go and healthy and protect himself and prepare for a bowl game, there would be no hesitation to give him that opportunity.”
No. 13 Notre Dame (8-3) at No. 5 USC (10-1)
When: Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EST
Where: Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum (78,467), South Bend, Ind.
TV/Radio: ABC, WSBT Radio (960 AM), WNSN (101.5 FM)
Line: USC opens as a 5 -point favorite
Series: Notre Dame leads 48-36-5
Last meeting: Notre Dame won 31-26 in South Bend.
Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.