Irish defense loses Jones, Tranquill for season

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The hits just keep coming for Notre Dame’s defense. On Tuesday, Brian Kelly confirmed that defensive tackle Jarron Jones would be lost for the season. He also announced that safety Drue Tranquill tore his ACL, ending the freshman safety’s season as well.

Jones suffered a ligament tear in the middle of his foot. It’s an injury that the Irish training staff recognizes from earlier in their tenure in South Bend.

“Jarron Jones is out for the year,” Kelly announced. “He’ll have surgery next week and that’s about a four to six‑month process for that. We think we’ll get him back for spring ball.

“That’s similar injury that Braxston Cave had.  And we got him back in about four months. Rob Hunt is very confident based upon the tear there that they’ll get him back in four months.”

A return for spring practice would be welcome for the Irish defense, but will be no help against USC. Kelly also confirmed the news that Sheldon Day would not play this weekend, but is hopeful to return in time for the bowl game.

The news of Tranquill’s injury was a surprise, both to those that have watched the freshman ascend into the starting lineup and to the coaching staff that watched him play out the game against Louisville after suffering the injury.

“We didn’t even think Drue had a torn ACL,” Kelly said. “We thought he pinched the fat pad on his knee. Played the second half on it.

“That’s how strong he is, hamstring and quad area is so strong that he passed his ACL test.  Then he comes in on Sunday and he’s swollen, we’re like we need an MRI.  We get an MRI he has an ACL.”

Kelly is also optimistic about the recovery time for Tranquill, hoping to see the freshman up and running in four months and ready for full workouts come summer.

In Tranquill’s place, Elijah Shumate returns to the starting lineup. He’ll be paired with senior Austin Collinsworth, though Max Redfield is listed as the primary backup at free safety and is a better fit athletically.

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With the focus now on an even younger defensive line, Kelly was asked about his early impressions of Jacob Matuska. The sophomore, who redshirted last season, made five tackles in his first significant game action.

“We got solid play. We got physical play inside. I think it was probably one play that he was out of his gap, which contributed to a fairly significant run,” Kelly said. “But by and large for his first significant playing time, we were pleased with the physical play that he showed inside.”

Matuska will anchor one of the defensive tackles spots. Los Angeles native Justin Utupo will man the other. They’ll both be backed up by true freshmen, with Daniel Cage back after an injury and Jay Hayes playing his second Saturday.

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After hobbling off the field against Louisville, Cody Riggs still managed to play some key snaps at cornerback in a game where his experience was desperately needed. Riggs still technically tops one of the corner spots on the depth chart, and Kelly hopes to get a similarly gutty effort from his fifth-year senior.

“He’s in a walking boot right now just to keep the stress off that foot.  He’s a gamer, you know,” Kelly said. “We’ve got 30 something plays from him.  My guess is we’ll get something close to that again, unless something happens during the week.”

We saw sophomore Devin Butler play for the majority of the game, getting beat once by DaVante Parker for a touchdown. Cole Luke will once again do the heavy lifting at the position, challenged by Nelson Agholor.

Freshman Nick Watkins is also in the two-deep, backing up Riggs, though likely the third corner in — and the fourth if you consider Matthias Farley at nickel back.