The Notre Dame Fighting Irish ranked No. 14 in the nation face the LSU Tigers, the No. 15 ranked team in the country in the 2018 Citrus Bowl on January 1.
On Thursday, Notre Dame suspended a third player for the game when they announced that Alize Mack, a junior who plays tight end, and played often this season after missing all of the 2016 season due to academic problems, is not playing because of a team matter.
The announcement was made by head coach Brian Kelly, but he did not release details. Kelly said the suspension was limited to the January 1 game that is to be played in Orlando.
Players Caught Shoplifting
Notre Dame already has indefinitely suspended running back C.J. Holmes, freshmen and wide receiver Kevin Stepherson a sophomore. Both players were arrested last week on charges of shoplifting in a Mishawaka mall.
Kelly explained during the Thursday announcement that he and his coaches try to expose their players to foundational principles of how to make good decisions, but they broke a commandant that you cannot steal.
Kelly added that he can tolerate many things, but stealing is not one of them, and that is why the two were indefinitely suspended and are in jeopardy.
Kelly added that he was still making a decision on the length of time that Holmes, who played sparingly in eight games, and Stepherson, who missed the first four games of the season for off-field issues but had 19 receptions and five touchdowns, would be suspended for.
In August of 2016, Stepherson and several other players for Notre Dame were in a car stopped for a bad light. Officers said they smelled marijuana inside the car and conducted a search that turned up a gun belonging to Max Redfield a senior safety.
Stepherson was also arrested for possessing marijuana, which is a misdemeanor. He later pled guilty but played that season ending with 25 receptions and five touchdowns, while Redfield was booted off the team.
Kelly said that he would not go into any specifics about what the future is for Stepherson, who was highly recruited in high school. Kelly added that the player made poor choices and the coaches are evaluating everything before making a decision.
Kelly added that he expects his players to make the right choices, but knows they are not all going to be perfect, and if they make a bad one, they are held accountable.
Mack caught 19 passes and one touchdown sharing time at the tight end position. He played in 10 games this season.
Offense Hit Hard by Suspensions
The Mack and Stepherson suspensions are a big blow to the offense of the Irish. The receiving corps for quarterback Brandon Wimbush has been severely hit with Brock Wright a freshman tight end and Chase Claypool a sophomore wide receiver both out with recent shoulder surgery.
Kelly said Equanimeous St. Brown, a junior, would move from his starting spot to replace the suspended Stepherson and C.J. Sanders, Cameron Smith and Chris Finke would all share time at wide receiver. Playing time for Wright and Mack is anticipated to be covered by Durham Smythe who is already a starter and other players Kelly did not name.
LSU Has Its Own Problems
Notre Dame has more than its share of problems with injuries and suspensions, but LSU is not without its own problems. The Tigers have linebackers Corey Thompson, Donnie Alexander and Arden key all out injured. In addition, Cameron Gamble the team’s kicker is not eligible for the game.
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