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Questions for the Week: Ankles, Claypool and Notre Dame’s history at Spartan Stadium

Notre Dame v Boston College

CHESTNUT HILL, MA - SEPTEMBER 16: Tony Jones Jr. #34 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates with Alex Bars #71 after scoring a touchdown against the Boston College Eagles during the second half at Alumni Stadium on September 16, 2017 in Chestnut Hill, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

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As always, these are questions with answers likely to come before Saturday night’s kickoff …

Will Cam Smith be healthy enough to get back on the field?
The fifth-year receiver suffered a sprained ankle in practice last week, limiting his reps throughout the week and keeping him from playing Saturday, per Irish coach Brian Kelly. That absence may have held more of an effect than was anticipated by anyone.

Certainly, Notre Dame’s receivers totaling three catches for 11 yards is not solely a reflection of Smith not being on the field. It is a sign of bigger issues, but that does not mean Smith would not have aided the cause. With his institutional knowledge of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s scheme from their days together at Arizona State, Smith has been consistent. His seven catches for 54 yards come from running clean, disciplined routes.

Getting him back onto the field could alleviate a slight bit of junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s accuracy issues. By no means would this eradicate the concern entirely, but even a small step in the right direction would be a welcome trend for the Irish at this point.

If Smith remains sidelined, did Chase Claypool do enough to maintain his spot as a starter?
Kelly answered this question Sunday, but it had already been worked into this concept’s draft and emphasizing it seems a valid decision.

Claypool will continue to see time, though more so at the boundary receiver position than the slot spot he worked at throughout spring and preseason practices. Of those three catches for 11 yards the receivers managed against Boston College, Claypool accounted for two receptions and eight yards.

“He was assignment correct,” Kelly said. “We saw him really grow in the areas that we wanted him to grow in.”

Along with Claypool, there was also some Michael Young innuendo last week. Will the depth chart now reflect that?
When Kelly discussed coming changes at receiver before the trip out east, he mentioned Claypool by name. He also seemed to imply another unexpected option could emerge.

“Guys are going to get banged up and we’re going to call on what I think will be outstanding depth at our wide receiver position,” Kelly said Thursday. “But we really do have to start to feature some guys that might not have all the experience but have a higher ceiling.”

At that point, Kelly knew Smith was injured, though perhaps he was still questionable to play. Kelly also presumably knew senior Freddy Canteen would need season-ending shoulder surgery this week. Those two bits could explain the first half of that paragraph.

The second half suggests Claypool would have company in the inexperienced with a “higher ceiling” category. With sophomore Javon McKinley intended to preserve a year of eligibility this season, freshman Michael Young is the most-likely candidate.

That presumption could be quickly confirmed in the Notre Dame depth chart this week.

How badly is Tony Jones’ ankle sprained?
Exactly a week ago, this piece wondered, “Through two games, are the Irish really still this healthy?” Through three games, the answer has become no.

Sophomore running back Tony Jones sprained his ankle against Boston College, only x-rays confirmed no further damage. As a running back, that injury can obviously be more than a nuisance and waiting for Jones to return to full health before playing him makes sense. If that takes longer than a week, it should lead to a bit more playing time for junior Dexter Williams.

That could come at a play calling cost, though. Jones has been a staple in any two-back alignment. As the best pass-catching running back on the roster, he offers the most genuine looks in those sets. Jones’ absence could diminish those looks in the short-term.

Will Chip Long move to the press box?
Let’s be clear: This is pure speculation.

Only two Notre Dame coaches are in the press box on a given weekend: quarterbacks coach Tom Rees and defensive coordinator Mike Elko. The rest prowl the sideline, including Long.

Before the season, Kelly indicated that was a starting position, leaving the door open for Long to move up top for one reason or another during the season.

“He wants to get a feel and a comfort level,” Kelly said. “That’s where he’s going to start. He’ll start the first game on the sideline and see how that rolls. He just wants to get a real good feel of the game itself and all of our personnel and our communication. It could change, but that’s where we’ll start it.”

The biggest issue with the Irish passing game is Wimbush’s accuracy. There is no need to sugarcoat that. Long moving to a different vantage point will not solve Wimbush’s weight placement or release point, but it could allow Long to spot different opportunities to exploit the defense within Wimbush’s comfort zone.

Michigan State is coming off a bye week.
There is no question there, simply a reminder. The Spartans will be fresh come Saturday night at 8 p.m. ET (on FOX). During Mark Dantonio’s tenure, Michigan State is 6-4 following bye weeks.

Now seems an appropriate spot to mention Notre Dame faces USC after the Irish bye week. The Trojans, meanwhile, do not have a bye week this year due to some scheduling quirks.

How many “Little Giants” references will there be this week?

The internet could not even get to Monday’s lunch before offering a piece reflecting on that 2010 fake field goal. This will undoubtedly not be the last mention of it, especially since this year’s matchup is at Spartans Stadium.

Remember folks, weird things happen in Spartans Stadium.

Can North Carolina State regain some of that preseason luster?
The Wolfpack heads to face No. 12 Florida State at noon ET this Saturday (ABC). A North Carolina State victory would immediately reinsert the upstarts into the ACC title conversation, though No. 2 Clemson still dominates that discussion until further notice.

Will Miami (FL) finally play a game?
The Hurricanes have played just once this season to date, thanks to Hurricane Irma’s havoc. Miami hosts Toledo at 3:30 ET (ACC Network).
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