SOUTH BEND - Brian Kelly kept his opening remarks about Saturday's University of Tulsa football matchup short and shocking.
It took the first-year Notre Dame head football coach all of eight seconds Tuesday to launch into a favorable comparison between Golden Hurricane junior quarterback G.J. Kinne and NFL icon Brett Favre.
And that was well down the list of the scariest things the Notre Dame defense is having to deal with this week, just days removed from giving up the most rushing yardage to Navy (367) in the 84-year history of that series.
At the top of the ledger of bad news is that Notre Dame (4-4) will be picking up the pieces without senior nose guard Ian Williams, quite possibly ND's most consistent player on a defense that has been largely inconsistent this season.
Kelly confirmed Tuesday that Williams is expected to miss the next four to six weeks with a knee injury, a sprained medial collateral ligament that will not require surgery.
“It's an injury that some come back quicker than others,” Kelly said. “We'll be able to get a better feel for it, probably next week after we get it to calm down, and go from there.”
Where ND will go for reinforcements against an offense that has piled up 500 yards or better in each of its past four games is junior Sean Cwynar.
Junior Hafis Williams, a backup defensive end this season - out of necessity, will slide back over to his natural position to become Cwynar's tag-teammate at the nose. Freshman Kona Schwenke, the reigning Hawaii high school Player of the Year, will move into the two-deeps at defensive end.
Schwenke had been in line for a redshirt year but will instead start his eligibility clock on Saturday, in week nine of the season.
“This is still about winning, and we are in that mode where we have got to win some more games, obviously,” Kelly said of his decision to elevate Schwenke.
“Getting to a bowl game is very important, so this isn't one of those, ‘Let's ride out the streak here.' We need help.”
The Irish may need help at inside linebacker as well, though Kelly is hopeful sophomore starter Carlo Calabrese (hamstring pull) will be ready to play. If not, sophomore Dan Fox fills in.
Elsewhere on the injury front:
- Kelly said starting wide receiver Theo Riddick (ankle sprain) will be out at least three more weeks. His replacement, freshman TJ Jones, tweaked a hamstring in Saturday's 35-17 loss to Navy, but Kelly said the MRI came back clear and Jones should be ready to play against Tulsa.
“We upped his reps so much, he still is a freshman and he got a lot more playing time, especially in that slot position,” Kelly said of Jones. “So I think more of it was fatigue than anything else. We checked him out carefully. ... We should have no ill effects with TJ.”
- ND's leading receiver, Michael Floyd, who missed the Navy game with a hamstring injury, and safety Jamoris Slaughter, in and out of the lineup since Sept. 4 with an ankle injury, will have their playing status for Saturday defined later in the week. Kelly was hopeful to have them both.
“He's feeling better,” Kelly said of Floyd. “And we want to make sure that he's able to play at full speed when we get him back. So, again, I think we'll manage that during the week and see how he feels.”
Ian Williams ambled off the practice field Tuesday on crutches, and sporting a brace on his left knee seemingly the size of a small Third World country.
He quickly vowed to beat the time frame his doctors have laid out for a full recovery, a prognosis that could mean Williams has played his last game in an Irish uniform if the doctors are right and if ND misses the minimum of six wins to get into the fringe of the bowl picture.
“It's tough,” he said. “I've never had any injuries like this, but you just got to get past it and worry about making your teammates better.”
Williams called the injury a freak accident, but a clean play.
“I think somebody just got rolled up into me,” he said. “Just the way the person fell into me and (that) I heard a few things, I knew (the injury was serious).”
From bad to worse
If you think the current Notre Dame coaches had an rough weekend, some former ND coaches have them beat.
Actually, it's been a trying year for former Irish assistants Rob Ianello, John Latina and Ron Powlus.
Ianello is the first-year head coach at the University of Akron, Latina the offensive coordinator and tight ends coach, Powlus the passing game coordinator and quarterbacks coach. None of them has been able to add a win to their résumé since leaving ND.
The Zips (0-8) are definitely living up to their name, for once. They were the first team in the Football Bowl Subdivision to be eliminated from bowl contention and are one of only two winless teams in the 120-team division (0-7 New Mexico is the other).
Not even Gerry Faust had an winless team at Akron, though he did go 1-10 in his final season with the Zips in 1994.
Statistically, the best thing Akron does this season is punt. The Zips are ranked 67th in the nation in net punting. It's the only one of the 17 major team statistics the NCAA tracks in which Akron rates higher than 87th,
They Zips rank 100 of below in 12 of those 17 statistical categories.
Among Akron's four remaining opponents is Miami of Ohio (4-4), coached by former Irish offensive coordinator Mike Haywood.
Perhaps Ianello can take solace in the fact Haywood and Miami were 1-11 last season.
Strange, but true
- Tuesday's high winds in South Bend, with gusts up to 52 miles per hour, prompted Kelly to move practice indoors to the Loftus Center. It's the first time most of ND's freshman have ever practiced in the school's indoor practice facility.
Kelly did use the Loftus Center briefly and reluctantly one day last spring, when lightning chased them off the outdoor practice fields. But once the lightning subsided, the Irish were back outside. Tuesday was the first full practice held there since Kelly became head coach last December.
- One of former ND head coach Charlie Weis' bugaboos was that he first largely ignored, then struggled to produce even a respectable running game at the college level, at least by Notre Dame standards.
The Irish finished 55th, 72nd, 115th, 100th and 84th nationally in rush offense during his five seasons in South Bend. The 75.3 yards per game sputtered out by the 2007 offense was worst in school history.
Well, look at him now.
The offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs (4-2) - in first place in the AFC West, no less - is presiding over the NFL's 19th-most potent offense and trending upward.
Here's the twist. KC is 30th out of the 32 NFL teams in passing offense, but No. 2 - behind only Oakland - in rush offense.
Touching on Tulsa
- Four former Tulsa players have gone on to become NFL head coaches - Sam Rutigliano, Tommy Hudspeth, Ray Rhodes and current Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith.
- Don't look for any long returns in Saturday's clash between ND and Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane ranks third in the nation in kickoff coverage and fourth in punt coverage. The Irish are 12th in kickoff coverage and first in punt coverage.