Comings and Goings
An injury-riddled August gave way to a relatively healthy first three weeks for the Irish on game days, but a few players paramount to the proceedings are in question for this week and beyond.
Still out (clearly) are tight ends Mitchell Evans (July foot surgery) and nose tackle Aidan Keanaina (April ACL surgery) although both are expected to be cleared this season—the latter far ahead of schedule.
Less clear for the weekend are sophomore running backs Logan Diggs (missed practice last week) and junior tight end Kevin Bauman—an integral player through three contests.
“Mitch, he’s not ready yet. I hope he’s able to get back hopefully by the BYU game or soon thereafter,” said Irish head coach Marcus Freeman. “I know he’s out of the boot and he’s making his progress towards his return. We’ll see. Kevin got twisted up a little bit yesterday. We’re still waiting to see how he feels today and his return, but that’s still to be determined depending on how the day goes.”
Although unofficial, Irish Illustrated does not except Bauman to play Saturday against the Tar Heels.
Junior linebacker Jordan Botelho did not appear from scrimmage Saturday against California, nor did the sophomore Prince Collie. (Both participated on special teams.)
Asked about Botelho’s ‘availability’ defensive coordinator Al Golden noted, “No, no, there was nothing there. It was just the way the game unfolded. The previous week, it was more of a space game. This was a little bit different in terms of just the way they ran the offense. That was it.
Botelho participated for 17 snaps vs. Marshall—zero against both Ohio State and California, although he started on the Irish kickoff coverage units.
As for Kollie, Golden offered, “PK’s right there. Junior (Tuihalamaka), he took a couple of reps last week, but Prince had the injury (August concussion), and that kind of put him back from what was a great summer and a great summer camp, or spring/summer.
“But I feel like he’s really, really close. So, I’m excited for him. And I know he’s anxious to get out there, so, hopefully, this will be the week he can get in the rotation. He’s close.
On a related note…
Senior captain JD Bertrand’s unnecessary helmet to helmet blow in the waning moments Saturday will keep him out of the first half against the Tar Heels.
“He’s a smart guy, who did a foolish thing. I mean, that’s it. Guys like that who play hard, make good decisions all the time, try to do the right thing—when something like that happens, they feel worse than anything,” said Golden.
“So, it doesn’t do you any good to beat ’em up. I just think he’s got to get himself ready to go, and this week he’ll come out of the bullpen. So, some of those reps are going to other guys right now. And we get to halftime, he’ll be back into rotation.”
With North Carolina’s potent offense on tap—and one that threatens the short- and mid-range zones as well as any—Golden’s linebackers remain a talking point heading into Game #4.
“Each game the challenges have been different, as they will be this week. That’s college defense these days,” said Golden. “Every week is a different bingo board, if you will, how people attack you.
“A lot of West Coast orientation last week. And this is a little bit different, now. So, those challenges each week is to let the last game plan go, understand exactly what we’ve got to get done, fit the runs really well and in this case, we’re gonna have to cover the running backs really well or tight ends. Our underneath coverage is going to have to be really good.”
Golden has relied heavily on his three starters and reserves Bo Bauer to date, the quartet combined for 450 snaps while Tuihalamaka, Botelho, and Kollie have logged a combined 19 (Botelho 17, Tuihalamaka 2 per Pro Football Focus).
NOT WEARY, NOT RESTING
The presence of Notre Dame’s October 1 bye following North Carolina and preceding a contest against Brigham Young—two of the perceived four best foes remaining on the ’22 slate—elicited a bit of a change from the normal bye week procedures in college football.
That is: a lot of work.
“I hope after four weeks and four games that we’re not tired. I don’t plan to rest them a lot, said Freeman. “We have to get better. We have to develop in that week. We’ll have a couple of practices—three or four practices during that week to continue to find ways to develop as individuals and as football players. We’ll utilize that. It’s not like it’s after week six or towards the end of the year, we’re talking about the first third of your season will be complete as we hit our bye week.
“If guys are banged up, we have to be smart and get them to return to play. The majority of guys, it’s the development time, practice time and it’s ways to get better. That’s the only way you get better is out there in practice.
“Coaches will be recruited early in the week and later in the week. We have to use this as time to go out and see some of our guys and evaluate some prospects. A lot of that week we’ll be busy. We’ll be busy as a football program with our current team and also out recruiting.”