Part of the offensive firepower expected to help No. 8 Notre Dame outpace USC on Saturday was junior running back Jafar Armstrong, sidelined since the first series of the Irish season with a torn abdomen muscle. Shortly after the injury, Armstrong’s targeted return date was Saturday night.
Technically speaking, he did return in the 30-27 victory, but aside from a rush losing four yards in the third quarter, Armstrong had no statistical impact. (He also missed a blitz pickup earlier in the game.)
Notre Dame made do without him, largely thanks to senior running back Tony Jones’ 176 yards on 25 carries leading the way to 309 total rushing yards (sack adjusted). Irish head coach Brian Kelly pointed to the success on the ground as the counterintuitive reasoning for the lack of Armstrong.
“We wanted to be specific with what he was going to do for us,” Kelly said Sunday. “But the way the game unfolded, it never materialized. We thought we’d get him more involved with the passing game, but because of the way they played us, we didn’t get those kinds of opportunities. It was the way USC played us more than any issues relative to his preparedness.
“He was prepared to play somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-to-15 plays, but the way they defended us didn’t allow him to get as many opportunities as we had thought.”
Last week, Kelly suggested Armstrong would play closer to 20 snaps, rather than 50. A reduced role was always anticipated, just not as reduced as became reality.
Whether that was because of the Trojans’ defensive approach or because Armstrong was not genuinely full-go, Notre Dame now has two weeks to work him into the next game plan.
Speaking of the Michigan game, that has officially been announced as a 7:30 ET broadcast on ABC, to no one’s surprise.
Another return, perhaps only a momentary one, Saturday came from senior cornerback Donte Vaughn. Playing against USC marked Vaughn’s fourth game of the year. He made three tackles and logged a pass breakup on a phantom play.
Simply put, that breakup may have been Vaughn’s best single play since his freshman season. The Irish needed every contribution available from its secondary against the Trojans’ receivers, and Vaughn proved up to the task, something he was not last November or December.
Now, if Vaughn plays again this season, he will be out of eligibility moving forward.
“It’s still being discussed in the building,” Kelly said. “Because it’s not an easy answer for us because you saw what I saw. We want to do what’s right for the program, but also for the young man, too.”
The discussion will presumably come to a head during this idle week. Aside from USC’s, the most threatening receivers on the Notre Dame schedule are the next ones, Michigan boasting a three-pronged set only held back by quarterback play. Vaughn may be needed again, especially if fifth-year cornerback Shaun Crawford (dislocated elbow) is not back to playing as Kelly optimistically suggested last week.
In other eligibility concerns … While freshman safety Kyle Hamilton logged his first career start, freshman linebacker Marist Liufau appeared in his third game of the year on special teams. If he plays against the Wolverines, then Liufau will land in the same situation as Vaughn. That would preclude him from playing in a bowl game, notable considering the Irish have thus far played Liufau against its stiffest competition: Georgia, Virginia and USC.
A QUICK RECRUITING UPDATE
To preserve sanity, this space does not spend (much) time monitoring recruits younger than the current class. However, a weekend featuring a pair of commitments from consensus four-star receivers warrants notice, even if they are both a full 14 months away from signing National Letters of Intent.
Notre Dame lands ultra-talented 2021 WR Lorenzo Styles — From Ohio, the No. 28 recruit in the class, per rivals.com, and the No. 4 receiver.
Notre Dame lands 2021 Rivals100 ATH Deion Colzie — Coming out of Georgia, the No. 95 recruit in the class and the No. 6 receiver.
It’s the off week, a real midseason one. Have any questions, comments or general musings? Send them to email@example.com and help make the week an easier one for yours truly, as well.
INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE OF USC VICTORY
— Notre Dame holds off USC, 30-27
— Things We Learned: Schemes, more than players, propel No. 8 Notre Dame to win over USC