Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly announced Sunday that he had suspended star running back Cierre Wood and backup defensive end Justin Utupo for two games each for violating team rules.
The loss of Wood, the team’s leading rusher last year with 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns, will be felt in both the Irish’ season-opening game against Navy this Saturday in Dublin, Ireland and in the Sept. 8 home opener against Purdue.
“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.”
Junior quarterback Tommy Rees and senior linebacker Calabrese had previously been suspended by Kelly for the Navy game following a May 3 incident that resulted in their arrests.
Wood, a 6-foot, 215-pound senior, has been unavailable to the media throughout the preseason camp. He sat out of Notre Dame’s first practice because of what Kelly called incomplete paperwork.
With Wood sidelined, senior Theo Riddick and sophomore George Atkinson III will share the bulk of the carries at tailback. Southern California transfer Amir Carlisle missed all 15 spring practices because of ankle surgery and is yet to return to 100 percent. It’s unlikely he would shoulder a significant offensive load, assuming he plays at all.
Sophomore Cam McDaniel started training camp as a cornerback, but could be pressed into service against Navy as a third tailback. True freshman William Mahone would play behind him.
Riddick came to South Bend as a tailback, rushing for 160 yards on 29 carries as a freshman. He switched to slot receiver in 2010, remaining there until an injury to Jonas Gray late last year prompted his move back into the backfield.
Riddick totaled 63 yards on 14 carries in limited opportunities last fall, but enjoyed a strong spring and preseason camp as a hybrid running back/slot receiver.
Utupo played almost exclusively on special teams last season.