Brian Kelly updates injury report, offensive matchup ahead of USC game
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, October 20, 2017
Coming off of its bye week, No. 13 Notre Dame will spend the week preparing for arguably the most important game of its season thus far: a matchup under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium against No. 11 USC.
And the week of rest enabled the Irish (5-1) to allow some of their injured players to heal up in anticipation of Saturday’s game, as they will have junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush back under center after he missed his team’s last game, a 33-10 win over North Carolina on Oct. 7.
“There are no questions about his health, so I think we can put that to rest in terms of how he is,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said of Wimbush on Tuesday. “He’s 100 percent. There’s no health issues at all.”
The Irish also expect to have several other players back in the fold: The top-three running backs on the depth chart — juniors Josh Adams and Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones Jr. — will all be “good to go,” Kelly said, while freshman defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa got over his chest contusion last week and has shown “no ill effects” throughout this week.
One player who the Irish will be missing for Saturday’s game against the Trojans (6-1, 4-1 Pac-12), however, is captain and senior linebacker Greer Martini, Kelly confirmed Thursday. On Tuesday, Kelly said Martini had injured his knee in practice and was a “day-to-day kind of situation.” Junior linebacker Te’von Coney will start in Martini’s place at the buck linebacker spot for the Irish on Saturday.
With his starter back in the fold and over his right foot injury, Kelly said his focused as shifted to continuing to develop the quarterback, who has impressed him so far this year.
“We went back and, as you know, in these bye weeks evaluate and self-scout, and he’s been really productive in a number of areas for us: moving the chains, fourth-down conversions, third down, big plays,” Kelly said of Wimbush. “He’s done a lot of really good things to get us to where we are today, and yeah, there has to be some improvement in some other areas, but from a productivity standpoint, he’s done some really good things, and he’s only going to get better.”
And while Saturday’s game might be the most significant contest Wimbush has played in thus far, Kelly said the experiences the junior had under the lights against now-No. 3 Georgia and at No. 18 Michigan State were integral aspects to his growth.
“Each step is a building block for him and being more comfortable and calm in the moment,” Kelly said. “We’ve seen that he settles in nicely as the game kind of unfolds. … We just want to keep that confidence level in him and his ability to continue to make those [big] plays, and this will be another step in that maturation process.”
Another player the Irish have seen develop from where he was at the beginning of the season, according to Kelly, is sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson. Kelly said Stepherson will see more time on the field this week than he previously was seeing, and his time on the field should continue to grow as the season goes on.
“Yeah, I think you probably saw what we saw — [he] was somebody that needed to get re-introduced into the game and get back up to game speed, game conditioning, even in a sense it was preseason for him in a lot of ways,” Kelly said. “He’s had a really good off-week and this week, you’ll see more of him. As we progress over the next half of this season, our expectations are to see his role increase.”
On the other side of the field, the Trojans offense has garnered significant attention with redshirt-sophomore quarterback Sam Darnold leading the way, but Kelly said the USC defense poses just as much of a challenge for the Irish.
“Defensively, Clancy Pendergast is an experienced defensive coordinator. He’s done a great job,” Kelly said. “I think if you look at their defensive front, it’s probably — more than anything else — been one where they have gotten a lot more disruptions; the ability to pressure the quarterback.”
On the USC defensive line, Kelly singled out junior Rasheem Green and senior Josh Fatu as two of the more disruptive and impactful players on the Trojan defense. The player he has been most impressed with, however, was junior linebacker Cameron Smith.
“I think my favorite player on the defense is Cameron Smith,” Kelly said. “He’s all over the field. He’s smart, great tackler in space. [He has] the ability to do a lot of things in coverage, but plays well in the box.”
And the talent is not limited to the front seven, as Kelly said the Trojans defensive backfield — led by junior safety Marvell Tell III and sophomore cornerback Jack Jones — both “plays the ball well in the air” and tackles as well as any defense backfield the Irish will see this season.
“Back end of the defense is as good as we’ve seen,” Kelly said. “ … I think this is a really good tackling defense in the back end, as good as I’ve seen in my eight years in terms of their ability to tackle.”