Every single season, it seems like injuries to key players plague the Irish. This season is no different, as five starters for the South Bend, Indiana-based team have gone down, most recently with starting safety Drue Tranquill tearing his ACL after celebrating a big play against number 14 Georgia Tech. Heading into this past weekend’s matchup against the Yellow Jackets, the Irish were a slight underdog at home, mainly due to the recent injury of starting quarterback and budding star Malik Zaire. Even with a game winning drive by backup DeShone Kizer against Virginia the week prior, many questioned the Irish as a legitimate playoff contender, and rightfully so.
However, after a statement win by head coach Brian Kelly’s team, Notre Dame again looks like a potential top four team by season’s end. Led by running back C.J. Prosise, who before this season was a slot receiver, and a stifling defense that held the Yellow Jackets’ triple-option offense to only 216 yards on the ground (they had averaged 377 so far this season), it looks like Notre Dame has just too much talent on the field for injuries to slow them down.
Give credit where credit is due, Brian Kelly’s “next man in” philosophy is a big reason why the Irish can field a talented team even with an abnormal amount of injuries. A good example of this was when Jarron Jones, a defensive lineman who many expected to breakout this season, went down in the preseason with a gruesome knee injury. Freshman and coveted recruit Jerry Tillery found himself in the spotlight as a result, and has filled the void nicely. Then there are players like Prosise who are seizing the spotlight when it is their time. Even though the running back was in the mix against Texas two weeks ago, junior Tarean Folston got the starting nod. But, when Folston tore his ACL early in the first quarter, Prosise was the next man in, finishing the game with 98 yards on 20 carries.
The road ahead for Notre Dame remains tough with contests on the road against Clemson and Stanford, as well as a home bout with USC. But if Kizer continues to improve and find players like junior wide reciever Will Fuller in the end zone (Fuller already has 400 yards and five TD grabs thus far on the young season), the offense will be set. And if Jaylon Smith, a potential top-five draft pick if he chooses to declare next year, leads the charge on defense, the Irish should find themselves in the playoff mix at the end of the season.