Notre Dame will fly across the Atlantic Ocean for Saturday's season opener against rival Navy, but they will do so without one of their top offensive players. Senior running back Cierre Wood was suspended from the team for the first two games of the season as a result of violating team rules, head coach Brian Kelly announced Sunday. Junior defensive end Justin Utupo will also serve a two-game suspension for the same undisclosed reasons.
“Our players are aware of the standards I set for our program and that failure to meet my expectations will result in consequences,” Kelly said. “Justin and Cierre violated our team rules so I’ve suspended them for the first two games of the season.”
The two players will miss the opener against Navy and the week two match-up against in-state rival Purdue. For the Irish the offense takes a legitimate hit with the loss of a 1,000-yard rusher in Wood. Wood led the Irish ground game with 1,102 rushing yards and nine rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.1 yards per rush. Utupo played mostly on special teams last season but hurts the depth on the defensive line early on.
The Irish offense will now have to look to senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson III to help keep the running game going and hope that will be enough to take some of the pressure off recently named starting quarterback Everett Golson, a first-time starting quarterback. This is hardly the ideal situation for Kelly and Notre Dame, who are continuing to look for a way to work the Fighting Irish back to a national contender and restore the national pride in the football program.
Against rivals like Navy and Purdue Notre Dame should still have an upper hand, but these are also two programs that should not be overlooked by anyone. Navy with their triple-spread offense has shown they are not intimidated by Notre Dame and capable of hanging with and beating the Fighting Irish in recent years. Purdue is a program with an offense that can take some people by surprise and could be a wild card in the Big Ten this season. An early season victory against a weakened Irish squad could be the momentum swing needed for the Boilermakers to turn some heads around the college football map.