FORT WAYNE – Notre Dame could be without two key defensive players as the Irish shift from one option team to another.
Coach Brian Kelly said Sunday that nose guard Louis Nix III and linebacker Ishaq Williams are questionable to play when the Irish (6-2) play host to Navy (4-3) this weekend.
Nix didn’t play in Saturday’s 45-10 win at Air Force after battling tendinitis in his knee last week. Williams started against the Falcons, but he had to leave the game early in the first quarter because of a knee injury.
Kelly said Nix’s availability against the Midshipmen would depend on how the senior, who has 22 tackles with two for loss, performs at practice.
When you are playing an option team it is really about getting out there and getting acclimated to what you are going to see, Kelly said of Nix. If he has a few days of practice where we really like it, I could change that. But I would say it’s questionable right now.
Williams made his first start Saturday and has 13 tackles with a sack in eight games. If the junior cannot play against Navy, Kelly said he feels comfortable turning to backup players like the team did against Air Force.
We lost (Williams) really in the first couple of drives, we played (backup linebacker) Romeo Okwara quite a bit. We played (backup linebacker) Ben Councell. (Backup defensive lineman) Justin Utupo played very well for us. We got a lot of guys involved, so we feel like, again, I don’t want to provide too much cliché, but for us, next man in really went in there and showed well for us. I think if we just continue to roll those guys out there, we are in pretty good shape.
Notre Dame also appears to be in good shape with a pair of starting linemen.
Kelly said defensive end Sheldon Day and left guard Chris Watt are probable to play this weekend after having injury scares against Air Force. Day retweaked the ankle he injured against Purdue on Sept. 14 that kept him out of two games, and Watt injured his knee.
While Kelly said he wants to keep a cohesive offensive line together and believes Watt will play, the coach also said the Irish could overcome having to play without the fifth-year senior lineman.
If there is any concerns on the offense for us, it would be trying to keep that group together, Kelly said. If we could dodge a bullet here with Watt, we should be OK. If not, (junior) Conor Hanratty has been there. The guys know him, and he’s got a good relationship with them.
Notre Dame already replaced one offensive lineman for the season as freshman Steve Elmer had to take over the starting right guard stop after Christian Lombard had season ending back surgery last week.
Elmer made his first start against Air Force after playing in five of the first seven games.
I thought for his first start he did some pretty good things, Kelly said. He’s a big kid (6-foot-5, 317 pounds), who can move his feet, pretty athletic. What I like about him is he is easy to talk to on the sideline. He can come back and pass on information. The moment does not seem too great for him as a true freshman.