Michigan has already suffered its first loss of the season, and it is not one any self-respecting football fan should wish upon the Wolverines. Sophomore receiver Tarik Black suffered a right foot injury in Saturday’s practice. This will undoubtedly knock him out of this week’s season opener at Notre Dame, and likely limit him for much time after that. While confirming the injury, Michigan did not specify its severity or the time frame for recovery.
If the worst fears are confirmed and it is a broken foot, this will be the second season of Black’s young career to be stymied by such an injury. He missed 10 games last year with a broken left foot, having made 11 catches for 149 yards and a touchdown when he went down.
That stat line may not seem like much, but it led Michigan at the time and Black was expected to do so again in 2018.
Without him, the Wolverines will have to rely even more on sophomore Donovan Peoples-Jones and senior Grant Perry. The combination of Black and Peoples-Jones, along with junior tight ends Zach Gentry and Sean McKeon, figured to put the Irish secondary into difficult positions this weekend. While Perry does return the most receiving yards from a year ago with 307, his 6-foot frame does not present as much a matchup challenge as Black’s 6-foot-3 reach would have.
Michigan might turn to 6-foot-4 sophomore Nico Collins to replace Black’s size in the starting lineup, but he does not bring Perry’s experience or Black’s explosiveness.
If that was not enough to ruin the Wolverines’ last weekend of the summer, star junior defensive end Rashan Gary may have also suffered a shoulder injury. Nothing is yet confirmed, but he did not partake in much of a Sunday evening scrimmage.
How limited Gary is may be the biggest development of the next five days. Losing Gary would reduce the effectiveness of his senior counterpart Chase Winovich. Notre Dame had success last year when it could tilt its blocking schemes toward one side of the line (ex.: North Carolina State, Wake Forest, Boston College), but struggled when the pass rush was viable from both sides (Georgia, Miami).
Sticking with opponents’ injury reports … Northwestern travels to Purdue on Thursday to kick off the college football season in earnest. (No disrespect intended, Rice and Prairie View A&M.) The opener comes nine months and one day after quarterback Clayton Thorson tore his ACL in the 24-23 Music City Bowl victory against Kentucky.
He might play Thursday. Wildcats coach Pat Fitzgerald has not yet committed either direction.
It is a testament to modern medicine that Thorson can even practice already. If the opponent was not a conference competitor, but instead perhaps Northwestern’s Sept. 15 matchup of Akron, then it would be easier for Fitzgerald to ponder giving Thorson a bit more time of recovery. Instead, Northwestern needs to get off to a strong start in its Big Ten season.
As for Notre Dame concerns, the Irish are healthy, leaving only depth chart intrigue. No two-deep listing is set in stone, especially the week before the season begins, but it will still be curious to see who Irish head coach Brian Kelly gives the printed nod to alongside junior safety Alohi Gilman.
That depth chart is expected Tuesday, and senior Nick Coleman received the most preseason practice praise. If not him, though, it could be freshman Houston Griffith. On one hand, starting a true freshman on the defense’s back line against a top-15 opponent to begin the year is a risk. On the other, it would speak to great faith in Griffith.
Who tops Notre Dame’s running back depth chart could also raise eyebrows. The best bet is an “OR” designation of junior Tony Jones or sophomore Jafar Armstrong, perhaps adding another or line for sophomore Avery Davis. The truest test will come in how the carries are split Saturday, but until then, the presence or lack of that simple conjunction will offer the most insight.
Undoubtedly, with or without it, Kelly will again praise Armstrong’s conditioning.
“The one thing that we do know about Armstrong is his ability to go every snap,” Kelly said Thursday. “An incredible workload capacity. He’s just an extraordinary athlete. … There seems to be no breakdown on him. Because of that, he puts himself in a unique situation within our offensive structure.
“He’s going to play and he’s going to play a lot.”
If Davis has not received as extensive of kudos, it is because his skillset best shows itself in competitive situations rather than drills, per Kelly.
“Every time it seems like when we scrimmage, [Davis] definitely is a guy that shows up,” Kelly said. “I would say that he’s a little different in the sense — practice he looks fine, but when it’s time to scrimmage and do those things, he seems to be a guy that really excels in that situation.”