Notre Dame is down another starter for the Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State on Saturday, but they’ll also be getting a surprise starter back in his place. New head coach Marcus Freeman confined that starting correct tackle, Josh Lugg, will miss the Fiesta Bowl and confirmed that freshman Blake Fisher would return to the starting lineup for the first time since Fisher was lost for the regular season in the opener against Florida State.
Losing a starter on the offensive line after its second-half resurgence isn’t ideal for a Notre Dame offense facing a defense that led the nation in sacks, but replacing Lugg with the guy who started the season as the starting left tackle isn’t too bad if Fisher is up for the workload. Fisher has not played since the opener when he got hurt in the first half of the first game of his career. That is a long layoff for anyone, let alone a true freshman, even with a month of bowl practice.
For Lugg, missing the Fiesta Bowl could be a rather unceremonious end to his Notre Dame career. Lugg has another year of eligibility left, but it’s not clear if he will be back. It was long assumed that Fisher and Joe Alt would be the starting tackles in 2022 regardless of Lugg’s presence.
Marcus Freeman confirmed on Monday that Lugg was hurt in practice last week in an 11-on-11 drill that aggravated a minor injury he had played through all season long.
Fisher being tasked with starting at right tackle in this game is no small ask for the true freshman. He hasn’t played since Labor Day weekend. Even with all of the bowl practices, it’s a tall order to play 60 or 70 snaps at right tackle against a defense like Oklahoma State’s. So it wouldn’t be surprising if either Michael Carmody or Tosh Baker spelled Fisher at times.
For Notre Dame fans, seeing Alt and Fisher on the field at the same time will be a glimpse into the future. Both look locked in as starters for 2022 and beyond though it’s possible the two still flip sides of the line next year. So for the Fiesta Bowl, it made perfect sense to plug Fisher in at right tackle instead of moving Alt over to the right side and putting Fisher in on the left side of the line where he started the year.
It’s remarkable that Fisher is even in this position. After the Florida State game, Brian Kelly initially said Notre Dame avoided disaster with Fisher after the Florida State game, and his injury didn’t seem serious. As was the case most of the time with Kelly, though, his injury report wasn’t the most accurate. Fisher didn’t play another snap all season.
Freeman said on Monday that he didn’t even know if they’d have Fisher available when bowl prep started earlier this month. Now he will be starting at right tackle against one of the best pass rushes in the country—just another wild development in what’s been an insane end to the 2021 Notre Dame football season.