The injury-ravaged Irish are fully healed heading into Saturday night’s matchup with Michigan State, head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday evening.
Notre Dame sustained several shots to the depth chart during its 20-17 win over Purdue last week and ran into more issues during the days that followed, but all hands will be on deck for the biggest test of September.
Kelly said sophomore wide receiver DaVaris Daniels — the most doubtful player earlier this week after spending Sunday in a walking boot with a sprained ankle — was surprisingly active in practice this week for a player working through his first career injury.
“He was able to do some good things today. I was surprised actually,” Kelly said. “First-time injured guys you have to see how that plays out.”
Fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter missed more than half of last week’s game with a shoulder injury. He is also expected to be ready to play. As is junior Danny Spond, who will get his first snaps of the season at Dog linebacker against the Spartans. Spond missed the first two weeks of the year and a large chunk of training camp after migraine issues forced him out of contact drills. Kelly said he was sore this week, his first back in full pads, but was excited to get back on the field. He and sophomore Ben Councell will share time at the outside linebacker position.
Senior Manti Te’o will be on the field against Michigan State despite a tough week of personal losses. Kelly said he didn’t know if Te’o would need to make a trip home to Hawai`i in the coming few weeks, but he definitely will be in East Lansing Saturday night.
“He wants to be with his teammates. He wants to be with people that care about him. He is a strong man. He’s going through a tough time, but he’ll rise to the occasion,” Kelly said.
Of the seven players missing from the Irish lineup last Saturday, the only one not likely to see the field this week is placekicker Nick Tausch. The groin injury that kept him from kicking against Purdue is not completely healed. His replacement, sophomore Kyle Brindza, had a strong week in practice after making two of his three attempts against the Boilermakers, including a clutch 27-yarder with seven seconds remaining in the game. The confluence of those factors led to Brindza getting the starting nod this weekend.
Wood off the Pine
Kelly reinstated senior running back Cierre Wood during the week of practice. Wood served a two-game suspension to start the season for violating team rules. He’ll join fellow backs Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III as a big part of Notre Dame’s game plan against Michigan State after shaking off a little bit of dust during the last few days of preparation.
“[He was] a little rusty,” Kelly said. “Not in the sense of when you’re a natural runner of the football. It’s just all the other things: getting the checks right, alignment, his assignment. He’ll be fine. He’s anxious to get out there and contribute to our offense.”
Kelly said he saw no negatives in Notre Dame’s future plans in the Atlantic Coast Conference. The school announced yesterday that it would be shifting the majority of its sports from the Big East to the ACC as soon as possible. The football team will remain independent, but plans to schedule five games against ACC opponents each season starting in 2014.
The new arrangement significantly strengthens Notre Dame’s postseason football options. Kelly said it also helps them dig deeper roots into particularly fertile recruiting grounds.
“That eastern seaboard has been great to us,” he said. “For us in recruiting we couldn’t have been more pleased. It just continues to build in some of the geographic areas that have the demographics for Div. I football players.”