It was going to take more than a high ankle sprain to keep Drue Tranquill sidelined. As Notre Dame (9-0) went through pregame warmups at Northwestern, the fifth-year linebacker took his usual spot leading stretches. He worked with the first-team defense, not going full-speed, but from eight stories high it seemed hardly anyone truly was. The guess was Tranquill just might start, only a week after a Navy offensive lineman rolled up his right ankle.
Then the press box announcer declared sophomore Jordan Genmark Heath the Irish starter. Presumably, Tranquill’s ankle had not held up through those warmups; he would spend the night an observer.
Yet, on the Wildcats’ second drive, there was Tranquill making the tackle on third-and-10, on his first snap.
“Drue is the type of guy that he’s not going to stay on the sideline for long,” junior cornerback Julian Love said after the 31-21 victory. “Obviously Jordan Genmark Heath was getting a lot of reps and doing a good job.
“I look over and I see Drue next to me. I was so confused. I thought he was hurting. That’s the type of competitor he is, he really wanted to lead this team. And he did that. He really fought through a lot to be on the field today.”
Tranquill finished with five tackles on a day he was questionable-to-doubtful to take the field at all. He showed up on most clear passing downs, third-and-longs, as part of Notre Dame’s dime package. His ankle may have theoretically kept him from making a cut to adjust to a route, but his understanding of the game allowed him to anticipate those routes, anyway. Certainly more than Genmark Heath may have in not only his first career start but his first real action of any kind.
“We didn’t know what exactly [Tranquill] could do until pregame,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “He practiced a little bit for us. He did a lot more than we thought he could do. We played pretty much our dime defense in the last couple of drives and he was on the field. He’s remarkable.”
Four of Tranquill’s tackles came on third downs, three of them short of the line to gain. The fifth tackle was in an higher-leverage situation, a second-and-goal from the 4. Tranquill stopped the Northwestern rusher at the 3.
“He’s a warrior,” senior linebacker Te’von Coney said. “That’s the only word I could say for that guy. He’s a warrior. He is going to do anything to go out there and be with us. He cares about his teammates. He’s a great brother.”
Tranquill should not have to do as much to get on the field this week, not that he will be as needed against a floundering Florida State (4-5). Kelly said Sunday that Tranquill “came out of it well.”
“He got out of the game feeling really confident that he’ll be able to make some big strides this week in terms of playing first and second downs.”
CREDIT TO GENMARK HEATH, AS WELL
Notre Dame’s 10-point victory was not that close, quite frankly. If going by the numbers alone, the adjusted scoring margin was 17.8. It is unlikely a lesser performance from Genmark Heath would have altered the binary outcome, but he removed that stress, nonetheless, finishing with six tackles in part-time action.
“We felt when we played him in this game that he was going to be able to do a job for us that would not put us in a deficit position defensively,” Kelly said. “We want more from him, but we did not think he was going to play at a level that would be an issue.
“We had a front that was going to protect him and let him run, and what you’ll see on film is a guy that was able to run and make some tackles for us.”
If nothing else, Genmark Heath should now have earned the right to spell Tranquill if/once the Irish have a comfortable lead Saturday.
ANOTHER YOON MARK
When senior kicker Justin Yoon made a 43-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, he moved past John Carney (1984-86) for second all-time in made field goals at Notre Dame. Yoon’s 52 trail only the 57 from Kyle Brindza (2011-14). With 10 in nine games this season, Yoon may need the extra game of a Playoff run to pass Brindza.
Yoon’s field goal percentage mark of 78.8 percent remains well above Carney’s 73.9 percent. Yoon would have to miss his next five field goals to lose that career record.
A QUICK TAGOVAILOA-AMOSA UPDATE
Sophomore defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa broke his foot in the season opener. From there, Kelly gave a return timetable of about 10 weeks. That put the game at Yankee Stadium against Syracuse on Nov. 17 in play, and given the new eligibility rules, Tagovailoa-Amosa could come back to play that, at USC and in a bowl game without costing himself the season.
Kelly has now backed that timeline up by a week.
“I think our last X-ray showed that he’s probably on that timetable, which would put him as a guy that would come out and start to condition for the USC game and try to get him ready for USC,” Kelly said.
Of course, Tagovailoa-Amosa could play at USC and in two bowl games and still retain the season of playing time.
HOW COLD DOES IT GET IN FLORIDA?
Technically speaking, Tallahassee is in northern Florida, but it is safe to say temperatures still do not drop to 27 degrees with a chance of snow. That is what awaits Florida State in South Bend this coming Saturday. That 7:30 ET kickoff (NBC) will not include the rescue of any sunshine.
This will not hurt the Irish intention to mark off another preseason goal.
“The guys are really locked in on what the next step is, and that’s to win all our games at thome and we have one left,” Kelly said Saturday. “We’ll take it one step at a time.”
BUT WHO WILL START FOR THE SEMINOLES AT QUARTERBACK?
This may hinge on junior Deondre Francois’ health. A ribs injury benched him for this weekend’s 47-28 loss at No. 22 NC State. He would presumably return this weekend if sophomore James Blackman had not played well enough against the Wolfpack to force Florida State head coach Willie Taggart to put off making a decision.
Blackmon completed 29-of-46 passes for 421 yards and four touchdowns with an interception. It is hardly his fault NC State scored 47 points.
— Michigan moving up
— Boston, NYC to become unlikely centers of CFB universe