Heading into week eleven and nearing the end of the regular season is putting a lot of pressure on Notre Dame football, as the college playoff system is beginning to close in and take closer notice of eligible teams. The end of the season also typically means longer injured rosters, and the No. 8 Fighting Irish are no exception. Notre Dame recently suffered another big casualty in this past weekend’s 49-39 defeat against Navy when Joe Schmidt, starting middle linebacker, was pulled out during the third quarter with what later was determined to be a fractured and dislocated ankle.
Although considered small for his position, the 6-foot 235 pound linebacker has been a breakout player for Notre Dame. Schmidt has put up some great numbers for his school with two interception catches, two forced fumbles, and leading his team with 65 tackles so far, the Irish are facing an impacting loss as he will be out the remainder of the season.
Joe Schmidt is set to have surgery on Tuesday, and coach Brian Kelly anticipates that he will make a full recovery to return for his final year of eligibility in 2015.
What does this mean for Notre Dame moving forward?
The Fighting Irish will certainly need to emphasize strength in further developing and training their defensive line this week in preparation for their upcoming game at Arizona State, which is likely the most challenging game remaining on their schedule. Nyles Morgan, a true freshman from Illinois, stepped in for Schmidt to finish out the game against Navy this past Saturday.
Kelly has stated he is not yet certain who will be leading Notre Dame’s defensive line as the primary play-caller in this weekend’s game. He has made it clear that he is depending on all of his defensive players to collaborate and cover Schmidt’s position as a leader amongst his teammates.
“Everybody is going to have to pick up the slack for a guy that did most of the work, he’s a big loss,” Kelly stated to the Chicago Tribune.
Despite a top ten spot in the AP Poll, the Fighting Irish has a defense ranked at number 28 in the nation. If they can adequately compensate for the loss of Joe Schmidt and emerge with a victory against No. 11 Arizona State, yet another one-loss team, Notre Dame likely has a realistic shot of making the playoffs at the end of the season. The Sun Devils will prove to be the first real test of a Notre Dame defense without Joe Schmidt leading it.
*Section Photo credit to Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matt Cashore, USA Today Sports