Here are five key storylines to watch when Notre Dame (4-1) meets North Carolina (1-4) at 3:30 p.m. ET Saturday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill. The Irish are ranked tied for No. 21 with Florida in the Associated Press poll and are No. 22 in the USA Today rankings.
BRANDON WIMBUSH’S ANKLE: Notre Dame’s starting quarterback is day to day, Irish head coach Brian Kelly told the media Thursday after practice. He added he expects Wimbush to play if he doesn’t start. Redshirt freshman Ian Book has taken most of the snaps in practice this week.
“(Wimbush) practiced today; he did some good things,” Kelly said. “We’ll go day to day and make the decision on game day. If he doesn’t start he’ll be able to do something.”
Wimbush hasn’t had a full workout since his ankle turned up sore Saturday night. He didn’t appear to have been hurt during the 52-17 rout of Miami of Ohio, but he informed Kelly his foot was sore Saturday night.
The redshirt sophomore, who has started all five games, was in a boot on off-days Sunday and Monday as well as on Tuesday, the team’s first day on the practice field.
His Tuesday workout was limited to soft tosses to keep his arm loose and riding a stationary bicycle. On Wednesday, he ran without cutting. He ran some plays in Thursday’s practice, but most of the reps went to Book.
BOOK IT: Book might make his first start, but he has seen the field in four of the five games and has taken snaps throughout practice this season.
“He has a good grasp of the offense,” Kelly said. “He gets a lot of reps; we give our second quarterback a good deal of reps. He knows the offense pretty good.”
Book (6-0, 208) was 3-of-4 passing for 48 yards against Miami. His other mop-up duty games were against Temple and Boston College. He saw one snap against Georgia in relief of Wimbush when the starter had a contact lens problem.
Kelly said redshirt junior Montgomery VanGorder (6-1, 222) is the third quarterback. That preserves true freshman Avery Davis’ redshirt season.
RUNNING BACK DEPTH: Ankle injuries have plagued the Irish running backs, but a four-deep depth chart has prevented a production drop off.
Josh Adams (6-2, 225) has started all five games and will start at North Carolina. He missed the second half of the Miami game as a precautionary measure with a tweaked ankle. He ranks seventh in the nation with 131.6 yards per game.
The backups are true junior Dexter Williams (5-11, 215) and redshirt sophomores Tony Jones (5-11, 225) and Deon McIntosh (5-10, 193). Jones missed the Michigan State game and Williams the Miami game with ankle injuries. McIntosh picked up their carries in both games. Kelly said all four are ready and junior wide receiver/kick return man C.J. Sanders has taken reps out of the backfield.
“Tony looked really good today,” Kelly said. “He and Dexter are going be able to play, but Tony is a little ahead of him right now. Josh will be the starter and we have Dion. C.J. got some reps, too.”
Williams wasn’t used in the 20-19 loss against Georgia in what turned to be a questionable coaching decision. He ran for two touchdowns the next week at Boston College and scored one rushing and receiving at Michigan State.
Jones (ankle) missed the Michigan State game, but he gained snaps in the second half of the Miami contest. He finished with four carries for 48 yards.
McIntosh had 12 carries for 35 yards and a touchdown at Michigan State and 12 for 47 with a TD against Miami of Ohio.
SUBPLOT DISISSIPATES: The subplot following Wimbush’s ankle injury seems to have been solved simply by the lack of evidence in this modern technology age.
A rumor surfaced on Sunday he was hurt at a bar, but here we are at the end of the week and no video has surfaced. In this age of the omnipresent cell phone/camera that clears him, doesn’t it?
“I trust what Brandon tells me,” Kelly said. “I have no reason not to trust 100 percent what Brandon tells me. He went out and felt his foot was not right, and he went home. That’s what he told me. I believe him. I have no reason not to believe him based upon my relationship with him over the last three years.”
TRAP GAME: Notre Dame could easily overlook North Carolina, but Kelly said he’s not worried.
“We’re all in on this game,” he said. “It’s not like we played our rival last week. We’re not emotionally drained, and we’re off (a bye) next week. It’s all in this week. All of our players are ready to go. We have an ankle or a foot sprain here or there, but we’re playing everybody. This is a game we need to win.”
After Notre Dame’s bye week, the Irish return home to face USC Oct. 21 at Notre Dame Stadium.
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