Notre Dame entered this offseason with two returning captains, but the No. 5 Irish may be without them both at Ohio State on Sept. 3. Fifth-year left guard Jarrett Patterson suffered a foot sprain on Monday, per head coach Marcus Freeman, and is now considered questionable to face the No. 2 Buckeyes.
“Right now we’re being cautious with his return,” Freeman said Thursday. “We have to rest it. We think for him, it’s going to be once we get through about a 10-day period of resting, it will be as he can go tolerate the pain.”
That prognosis for Patterson is obviously far better than the season-ending one for sixth-year receiver Avery Davis announced last weekend, but even a 10-day rest will take Patterson to just eight days before the season opener. Freeman offered optimism, but given he currently suggests multiple Notre Dame players that were expected to miss that game and are still limited in practices will instead likely play — namely, sophomore running back Logan Diggs (labrum injured in mid-April) and fifth-year receiver Joe Wilkins (LisFranc injury in March) — Freeman’s publicly-stated injury timelines should be taken with a grain of salt for the time being.
“I know his mentality,” Freeman said. “As a head coach, I expect [Patterson] to probably be out there because I know the type of competitor he is.”
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With Patterson sidelined, the Irish turned to senior Andrew Kristofic and sophomore Rocco Spindler in a scrimmage on Thursday. Kristofic started at left guard in the final seven games last season before being dropped to the second string this preseason when Patterson moved over to left guard to make room for senior Zeke Correll at center. (Context: Patterson has started 34 games at center.]
The scrimmage featured starters against starters for about 30 plays and then second-stringers against second-stringers for another 30. Given Patterson’s injury and the arguably overwhelming talent of the defensive line, it would be reasonable to think a pass rush could tilt the scrimmage toward the defense.
Instead, Freeman said a day with only one turnover gave the offense the win.
“If we defensively, if we don’t get takeaways, you’re not going to win the jersey scrimmage,” Freeman said, echoing his primary factor for deciding Notre Dame’s starting quarterback.
That starter, sophomore Tyler Buchner, was indeed the one player to commit a turnover, forcing a throw while rolling out toward the sideline on a third down, picked off by fifth-year cornerback Tariq Bracy.
“It’s one of those teaching moments,” Freeman said. “I would much rather on third down, throw the ball out of bounds then turn the ball over. … That’s a moment Tyler knows (and) wishes he could take back. He’s a competitor. He wants to get every inch.”
It is fair to wonder who Buchner was throwing to; Freeman did not specify. Given the starters vs. starters design of the scrimmage, it was likely not junior Xavier Watts, though the part-time safety, part-time receiver may already be back in the two-deep at receiver in his first week back at his initial collegiate position.
Watts spent the 2020 season at receiver and moved to linebacker last September, and then he joined the safety rotation in the final month of the season. Watts continued to impress at safety this spring, but he was an obvious choice to move to receiver when Davis’ injury left Notre Dame with only six healthy scholarship receivers, including one former walk-on. (In this count, Wilkins is not considered healthy)
On offense, Watts wears No. 26 while on defense he wears No. 4. Freeman did not say if Watts will need to settle on one number for the season, but he did suggest Watts will continue to play both positions.
“To be able to go there and help us on offense, we’re obviously down some numbers,” Freeman said. “Then next thing you know, the next series (he’s) in on defense. It talks to his character.
“He was really, really progressing as a safety. The unselfishness out of him — we need a couple bodies on offense, we need some guys to help us out, we’re down in the wideouts (room), and he said, ‘Coach, if it’s what’s best for the team, I’m going to do it.’”
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Freeman said Arkansas State transfer Blake Grupe will start over sophomore Josh Bryan at kicker. Grupe both made and missed 53-yard field-goal attempts on Thursday, per Freeman.
“That’s right on the fringe area. Do you go for it? Do you punt it? But it was really good to see. He’s been really consistent over the last few practices.”
[Editorial Note: Go for it. A 53-yard field goal means the line of scrimmage is at the opponent’s 35-yard line. A punt from there would most likely net all of 15 yards. If not kicking the field goal, there is no scenario in which that should not be a fourth-down attempt.]
Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph would handle punt returns if Notre Dame was playing this weekend. Freshman running back Gi’Bran Payne, freshman receiver Tobias Merriweather and freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey have also fielded punts in practices, but their decision-making has not earned their coaches’ faith.
“You have to put the person back there that No. 1 is going to make good decisions,” Freeman said. “You have to put the person back there that you can depend on to catch the punt, will really make the decisions, the right decisions.”
— Tyler James (@TJamesND) August 18, 2022