Notre Dame head football coach Brian Kelly announced Sunday that starting running back Cierre Wood and reserve defensive lineman Justin Utupo have each been suspended for the first two games of the year for a violation of team rules.
Wood was entering a senior season full of anticipation after leading the Irish with 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns in 13 contests. He was to have a mobile quarterback with a strong arm, and unlike a year ago was not going to face a consistent seven man front on each carry.
The reasoning for the suspension was unclear, as Kelly would only say "Our players are aware of the standards I set for our program and that failure to meet my expectations will result in consequences, Justin and Cierre violated our team rules so I've suspended them for the first two games of the season."
There was slight talk of "Heisman", and if nothing else Wood is expected to be difficult to stop.
In Wood's absence, the running back role will be filled initially by fellow senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson. USC transfer Amir Carlisle could also see carries.
In almost stark opposition, another surprising announcement was made during Brian Kelly's Thursday press conference was the revelation that KieVarae Russell will start opposite Bennett Jackson at cornerback.
This tiny bombshell was completely overshadowed by news that Everett Golson had been named starting quarterback.
The ascension of Russell is either amazingly great news or simply terrifying news for an Irish secondary that was young and thin to begin with before being further decimated by injury.
That a true freshman who was recruited as a running back and has only seen limited defensive duty as a high school sophomore vaulted Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown—who each bring speed, talent, and experience to the table—can be taken in one of two ways:
Either Russell is a virtual phenom at the position—and in four weeks managed to vault over several quality players who have been working the position for years—or there are in fact no other options, and Russell was tapped for speed and potential alone and the Irish will simply hope for the best.
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