The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have hit a cross roads in their 2014 season. The team stands at 7-3, having lost two consecutive contests, with tough games remaining against Louisville and USC. The Irish can either rise to the occasion and win nine games for the second time in three seasons or stumble to a disappointing finish, but both outcomes depend on the performance of the Irish’ reserves. The injury bug has bit down hard on the boys from South Bend, and the laundry list has grown after new injuries to several key players.
Quarterback Everett Golson will be available for Notre Dame despite suffering a sprain of the starting quarterback’s right AC joint, but junior defensive lineman Sheldon Day will miss the game due to a sprained MCL.
Day, a junior captain, has been a shining example of consistency along the Fighting Irish defensive line, collecting a team high 7.5 tackles for a loss to go along with nine hurries, a sack, and fumble recovery. Head coach Brian Kelly seemed optimistic, however, that the team’s top defensive lineman would return next week. In the meantime, Kelly must find a way to replace the team’s most productive defensive lineman which won’t be an easy task.
Furthermore, reserve defensive lineman Daniel Cage will miss this weekend as well with a knee sprain. In limited action, Cage has recorded only three tackles, but could have played a more pivotal role with Day out of the lineup.
This weekend will be a true test of the team’s ability to handle criticism and see if they are able to pick up two key victories heading into their bowl appearance. Notre Dame has had a tumultuous 2014 season highlighted by not only injuries, but also the suspensions of six starters due to an academic scandal. Where the go from here is contingent on the performance of second stringers as they take on a stronger workload during the final grind of the season.
*Section Photo credit to Jeff Gross, Getty Images; Featured Photo (above) credit to Matt Cashore, USA Today Sports