Injuries piling up for Notre Dame

Injuries piling up for Notre Dame
November 3, 2013, 4:00 pm
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JJ Stankevitz

The list of injured Notre Dame players grew longer after Saturday's 38-34 win over Navy, with defensive lineman Kona Schwenke (ankle) lost for next week and linebacker Ben Councell (knee) out for the season.

The bumps didn't stop there, though. Safety Austin Collinsworth (neck) will undergo an MRI on Monday after experiencing some unexpected soreness Sunday. Left guard Chris Watt tore his PCL against Air Force, and while it won't require surgery it kept him sidelined against Navy.

Defensive end Sheldon Day re-aggravated a high ankle sprain against Navy, and while coach Brian Kelly was optimistic he'd be able to play he's likely a game time decision Saturday at Pittsburgh.

Linebacker Ishaq Williams has an ACL injury (suffered Oct. 26 at Air Force) and is expected to return after Notre Dame's bye week. Safety Elijah Shumate (hamstring) is close to 100 percent but didn't play against Navy.

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And then there's Louis Nix, who was undergoing an MRI on his knee during Kelly's Sunday teleconference. He's missed Notre Dame's last two games with tendinitis in his knee, but Kelly revealed Sunday he has a small meniscus tear as well (Kelly said that's not a serious issue). Nix however will practice this week, a Notre Dame spokesman tweeted.

Notre Dame already lost a number of players before and during the season: Linebacker Danny Spond (hemiplagic migraines), defensive lineman Tony Springmann (knee), linebacker Jarrett Grace (leg), wide receiver Daniel Smith (ankle) and right guard Christian Lombard (back) all were lost before this rash of injuries hit Notre Dame in the last two weeks.

Needless to say, all of these injuries are testing Notre Dame's depth to the point where "next man in" may ring hollow, since there might not be a next man to come in.

"We are running out of next men," Kelly said. "We're at that point where from a defensive standpoint, and particularly the defensive line, we're left with very few options … It becomes an issue now where we have to be very creative in what we're doing and how we're doing it."

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Expect to see a lot of Tyler Stockton and Jarron Jones at nose guard with Schwenke out and Nix possibly out Saturday against Pittsburgh. Jaylon Smith no longer has a backup at 'dog' outside linebacker, although Romeo Okwara and Dan Fox could slide over there in an emergency.

It's the front seven that's been hit the hardest, with the injuries to Schwenke, Williams and Day all stemming from the cut-blocking, option offenses run by Air Force and Navy. Given the nature of those offenses, Notre Dame has been far more cautious with Nix, too.

"They don't give you any points for complaining about it," Kelly said. "If they did, I'd complain every minute. So we just take care of it internally and get the next guy ready."

The good news for Notre Dame is there's a much-needed bye week coming up. The bad news is there's no margin for error if the Irish want to reach a BCS bowl — so they'll have to beat Pittsburgh in spite of the ever-growing heap of injuries.