Notre Dame may have won a huge battle with their 20-3 victory over No. 10 Michigan State, but they lost a key cog to their defense. Brian Kelly confirmed the worst for senior safety Jamoris Slaughter who suffered a torn Achilles tendon during the third quarter of the Irish victory and will be lost for the season.
The fifth year senior was expected to anchor a young Irish secondary along with safety Zeke Motta. A group that’s already suffered season-ending injuries to presumed starting cornerback Lo Wood and safety Austin Collinsworth, will now continue with converted wide receiver Matthias Farley in Slaughter’s place.
“You lose a Jamoris Slaughter, you’re losing an ‘A’ player,” Kelly said Sunday. “Matthias is certainly not at the level yet of a Jamoris Slaughter. He has to continue to develop, but we have a lot of confidence and trust in him. He’ll be getting a lot of work back there.”
After looking shaky in man coverage against Navy, the Irish secondary has toughened against two Big Ten opponents, holding both Purdue and Michigan State to less than 200 yards passing. Even more impressive, the Irish will now be doing it with three starters that began their Irish careers on the offensive side of the ball, with Bennett Jackson and Farley starting as wide receivers, and freshman KeiVarae Russell originally pegged as a running back.
The freshman cornerback earned Kelly’s praise for his work against the Spartans, and it appears the youthful back-end of the defense — which also featured a healthy dose of freshman Elijah Shumate on passing downs — have settled in quickly thanks to the coaching of co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks and new safeties coach Bob Elliott.
“KeiVarae Russell has probably been the guy that makes us feel pretty good about what’s going on,” Kelly said. “He was challenged in one-on-one matchups and came out of it on positive note.
“You’re worried if you feel you have to hide them out there. We don’t have to hide those guys, they just need to continue to develop.”
That development will be accelerated even more with Slaughter’s departure. The fifth-year senior, who didn’t see action as a freshman and was plagued by an ankle injury throughout the 2010 season, may have an opportunity to explore a sixth year, though any decision there is likely to come down the line.