With a week off before hosting USC, Notre Dame’s to-do list is filled with the obvious: Get healthy, rest up and get ready for one of the more difficult second halves of the season in the country.
The most pressing piece of that first category — health and recovery — junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush should take first-team snaps in practice Wednesday, per Irish coach Brian Kelly. Notre Dame has today (Sunday) off, as usual, and will spend Monday only in the weight and film rooms. With Tuesday an added off day thanks to the bye week, Kelly expects the number of days with such a focus on rehab to be enough for Wimbush.
To be clear, in no uncertain terms, with no ambiguity, Wimbush remains the Irish starting quarterback despite sophomore Ian Book leading the way to a 33-10 victory at North Carolina on Saturday.
“Brandon is our starter,” Kelly said. “Ian did a great job coming in while Brandon wasn’t healthy, but no.”
Senior right guard Alex Bars suffered a “low-grade ankle sprain” against the Tar Heels. That should be the only other injury Notre Dame may worry about in two weeks. Naturally, the Irish will spend plenty of time these next two weeks tending to the ankles of junior running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomore running back Tony Jones. None of them are 100 percent, but all could and would play if Notre Dame had a game scheduled this week, Kelly said.
“We also need to get some guys that are banged up some rest and rehab,” he said. “That’s very, very important as we get ready for this big push for the next six weeks.”
When in practice this week, the Irish defense will focus on more than USC. As has been the case in many years during Kelly’s tenure, Notre Dame will spend some of the bye week getting introduced to the triple-option scheme run by Navy, even though the Irish will not see that attack until Nov. 18.
Some of the coaching staff will hit the road Tuesday to begin recruiting for a few days, while the rest of the staff will do so Thursday after practice. The players will then have the weekend off, an undoubtedly welcomed respite considering this week is mid-terms week, making it only a physical bye in its own way.
Upon return, Kelly knows what awaits Notre Dame in the second half of the season. If looking at the Associated Press top 25 poll released today, five of the six coming Irish opponents are ranked: in chronological order — USC at No. 13, North Carolina State at No. 20, unranked Wake Forest, No. 11 Miami, No. 25 Navy and No. 23 Stanford. The Irish are ranked No. 16 in the inconsequential poll, while previous opponents Georgia (No. 4) and Michigan State (No. 21) make it seven foes on the listing.
“We’ve got to coach better and our players have to play better in the second half because we’re going to have five of our next six opponents ranked currently,” Kelly said. “Pleased with where we are at the halfway point, but this is not where we want as a destination.”