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Lorton: Talk can be quieted with Week 1 win (Aug. 29)

| Thursday, August 28, 2014

Much has been said about the Irish in the offseason. Now it is time to let their play speak. 

The chatter has been recent, as four Irish players — three projected starters — are being held out of practices and games while the University investigates suspected academic dishonesty. 

Senior receiver DaVaris Daniels, senior defensive lineman Ishaq Williams, junior cornerback KeiVarae Russell and graduate student linebacker Kendall Moore are the four who will miss Saturday’s game as part of the ongoing academic investigation. 

The Irish had to replace the former three immediately. Russell was a spectacular shutdown corner and almost a shoe-in captain. Williams was a solid presence on the line and would have been formidable alongside junior Sheldon Day. Daniels was Notre Dame’s veteran pass-catcher with the most receptions and receiving yards on the team. 

Their absences have had far-reaching implications on both sides of the ball, as they’ve had to be replaced with young, inexperienced players. The defense especially will be tested, early and often. Rice has a “creative” offense, as Irish head coach Brian Kelly said, and it won’t be easy for a realigned defense to respond on the fly early in the season.

Under head coach Brian Kelly, Notre Dame has emphasized a “next-man-in” mentality. Sophomore defensive lineman Isaac Rochell had to step up for Williams, with a combination of players, including graduate student cornerback Cody Riggs, sophomore cornerback Cole Luke, sophomore safety Max Redfield and senior defensive back Matthias Farley, all contributing to fill in for Russell. Now only their play will show how their practice has paid off and if they are ready to tackle their new roles. 

Much has been said of senior quarterback Everett Golson’s return in the spring and how he has progressed as a player and a leader. There is a lot on Golson’s shoulders. After the nearly-undefeated season in 2012, some are expecting him to repeat that success. However, Golson has not been in a game since the national championship against Alabama — 600 days ago. He has trained with quarterback guru George Whitfield Jr. and been through spring camp, but despite all of the training, can Golson pick up where he left off? Only Golson will be able to answer that with how he plays starting Saturday. 

Much has been said of Notre Dame’s young team taking on one of the toughest schedules in the country. Will the inexperienced players have it in them to overcome away games at Florida State, USC and Arizona State, and home games against Stanford and Michigan? 

The senior class is the smallest Kelly has coached in his tenure here. There is a large contingent of juniors and sophomores that makes up a bulk of the Irish. 

The captains were just named Tuesday night, and are from three different classes. Graduate student Austin Collinsworth, seniors Cam McDaniel and Nick Martin and junior Sheldon Day will be leading the Irish. With the decision to appoint captains taking so long, is there a strong enough group of leaders or senior presence to stabilize the inexperience of a young team? 

Much has been said in the offseason, but not much has been said of Rice. None of the speculation on the part of the fans and press means anything until evidence can be seen in the regular-season games, and that begins with Rice. 

The Owls are no pushovers, coming off a 10-win season and a Conference USA title. Despite this fact, most of the talk has been about everything but Rice, which might concern a Notre Dame fan. Nonetheless, the talk all disappears on the field, where it is up to the Notre Dame players to worry more about the game than all of the side conversations swarming around it.

The Irish need an emphatic win to start their season to put all of this talk to rest.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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