Notre Dame fifth-year left guard and preseason All-American Jarrett Patterson should return to the starting lineup this week, per Irish head coach Marcus Freeman, after he missed the season opener at Ohio State due to a foot sprain.
“Jarrett has practiced every day (this week),” Freeman said Thursday. “We are expecting him to play on Saturday unless something crazy happens in the next 48 hours. He’s had a good week of practice.”
Patterson suffered the injury late in preseason practices, a timing that made his playing against the Buckeyes (1-0) always an absolute best-case scenario. After a preliminary warmup at Ohio Stadium, Patterson was ruled out for the top-five contest, never taking any pregame snaps with the starting offensive line.
Notre Dame (0-1) instead started senior Andrew Kristofic. Though Kristofic started much of last season, he is not the physical presence that Patterson is and he does not have the experience of a three-year starter.
“Obviously, when you don’t have an All-American out there, it’s not just a physical loss, but there’s the mental and emotional loss that you lose, not having an All-American, two-year captain on the field,” Freeman said late Saturday night after the 21-10 defeat. “I’m proud of those young guys. I’m proud of Kristofic.”
The Irish gave up three sacks to the Buckeyes and, even adjusting for those, averaged just 3.5 yards per rush, gaining 95 yards in the ground game.
“[The offensive line was] not happy with their overall performance from the Ohio State game,” Freeman said. “It’s a group that has some older guys, with [sixth-year right guard Josh Lugg] and [Patterson], and some guys that have played football that take a lot of pride in their performance. … They take a lot of pride in their performance. They’ve had a great week of practice, and I’m looking forward to seeing them on Saturday.”
They will need to. The Marshall defense had 40 sacks last year. It returns its two leading tacklers and now boasts transfers from Purdue and Kentucky on the defensive line interior. If the Herd (2:30 ET; NBC) has a weakness, it is anywhere but the defensive front.
“Their D-line is extremely explosive, they play really hard,” Freeman said. “… What they do defensively is they play fast, they’re aggressive, they’re a scrappy bunch that’s going to present a lot of challenges.”
Freeman saying Patterson has practiced all week is the kind of binary statement that is difficult to exaggerate with optimism, but otherwise, he has already shown a tendency to be publicly over-optimistic about injury returns. Perhaps that is gamesmanship, maybe it is genuine optimism, it could be the cautionary impact of diligent training staff.
But Freeman had said fifth-year receiver Joe Wilkins and sophomore Deion Colzie would both be good to go at Ohio State, and instead, they combined for one snap, by Wilkins. Of Notre Dame’s 50 snaps, including two plays negated by penalty, fifth-year receiver Braden Lenzy lined up on 43 of them, the most among skill-position players aside from junior tight end Michael Mayer’s 46.
Sophomores Lorenzo Styles (36) and Jayden Thomas (30) lined up on more than half the snaps, per Pro Football Focus, and fifth-year former walk-on Matt Salerno took eight plays. That was the extent of the Irish receiver rotation.
“That would be ideal, to be able to roll out multiple different wideouts in, keep them fresh, but we’re only going to do it as long as we feel like it’s what’s best for our offense,” Freeman said.
That is not to say Wilkins and Colzie could not contribute if healthy. It is to say they are not yet healthy. Wilkins suffered a Lisfranc injury in mid-March; his initial timetable to return was sometime next month. Colzie developed a balky knee in preseason practices.
“Joe is continuing to heal,” Freeman said. “He’s ahead of schedule, he’s continuing to gain confidence in his foot and heal. I hope that he goes out and he can perform at the level he feels he can do and the coaching staff expects him to. He’s had a good week of practice.
“His foot will continue to be a focal point for us to make sure we’re continuing to heal this foot, and it can help him perform at the level he aspires to be.”
Colzie is “not truly 100 percent yet,” Freeman said. That timetable remains especially vague.
Outside of them, the only remaining receiver option is freshman Tobias Merriweather, and playing his first snaps in front of 106,000 fans against the No. 2 team in the country may have been a step too far for him in the best of circumstances, let alone after he lost some time in preseason practices.
“He’s continued to progress,” Freeman said Monday. “I know that partly through camp, it could have been a hamstring or a knee or little injury, the typical camp injuries that prevented him from progressing at a faster rate. He’s got to continue to gain confidence. The coaches got to continue to gain confidence in him in terms of him being able to help our offense. He’s got a lot of talent.”
Thanks to some Power Five transfers, Marshall's front-seven could give #NotreDame's OL a needed test.@LukeCreasy: "The pressure starts up front and the LBs are adept enough to navigate through traffic to the ball. It should be a good test for the Irish."https://t.co/IqHBGt9E4F
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 8, 2022