As impressive as Notre Dame’s six-game winning streak has been, the most underappreciated part of it may be the continued relative health of the Irish. Aside from junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor missing the season due to a Lisfranc fracture in spring practice, senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage taking a year away from football to tend to knee and concussion issues and senior receiver Freddy Canteen undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, Notre Dame has stayed about as healthy as can ever be hoped for eight games into the season.
Such continued in the 35-14 Irish victory over North Carolina State on Saturday. Junior tight end Alizé Mack suffered a concussion attempting a diving catch along the sidelines in the second quarter. No other injury should threaten playing time against Wake Forest this weekend, per Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.
Senior linebacker and captain Nyles Morgan favored his shoulder after colliding with fellow senior linebacker Greer Martini along the sideline Saturday, but Morgan returned and appeared no worse for the wear.
“He’s had some chronic shoulder [issues] throughout the year,” Kelly said Sunday. “It’s just a matter of protecting him during the week, but he’ll be fine and ready to go.”
Sophomore running back Tony Jones did not receive any carries against the Wolfpack due to a hip pointer on the opening kickoff. Combining that with the continued nuisance of a sprained ankle has Jones growing impatient this season.
“It’s just been one of those things where he’s getting a little frustrated, is the best way to describe it,” Kelly said. “He was a little bit better today. We just have to get him in a good frame of mind and get him off and running because he’s a really good player.”
Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner picked up a sprained ankle that Kelly specified was not a high ankle injury, and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush mildly sprained his left ankle, but Kelly expects no limitations for Wimbush moving forward.
“[He] checked in today, felt good,” Kelly said. “He’ll enter tomorrow’s workout with no restrictions.”
The missed block on the punt block
When North Carolina State blocked a Notre Dame punt at the goal line in the first quarter Saturday to give itself a 7-0 lead, the uneducated eye — this eye — put the impetus on the mishap on sophomore Daelin Hayes for turning a rusher loose to devote a second pair of hands to Wolfpack senior defensive end Bradley Chubb.
In the postgame media availability, senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill donned his captain’s hat and took responsibility for the missed block, serving as the up-back on the punt.
Neither was correct.
Kelly attributed the special teams disaster to miscommunication leading to sophomore long snapper John Shannon missing his assignment.
“Our long snapper has to block in protection, that’s what’s unique about this,” Kelly said. “This was some miscommunication as to whether he was going to be part of the check. We moved it from an overload right to an overload left. The center thought differently. Everybody else was on the same page.
“… It was a blown protection. Obviously it can’t happen.”
Aside from the blocked punt, Irish junior punter Tyler Newsome averaged 34.6 yards on seven punts, a seemingly-low figure, but it was part of Notre Dame’s plan to neuter the Wolfpack’s dangerous punt return possibilities. Five of those boots went unreturned, and the two others gained a total of 22 yards.
Looking forward to Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons beat Louisville 42-32 on Saturday, raising their record to 5-3 after suffering three consecutive tough losses in ACC play. Of course, much of Wake Forest is very familiar to Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who held the same role with the Deacons for the last three seasons.
“We’ve got a great challenge,” Kelly said. “They’re going to play inspired football, obviously, with coach Elko here. We know what we’re going to get from Wake Forest.”