Brian Kelly announced Sunday what many feared following Saturday’s big victory over then #7 Stanford in Notre Dame Stadium–Alex Bars is likely lost for the season. During a third quarter run he was rolled up on at his knee and was later driven back by a Stanford player with his leg in a severely compromised position.
It didn’t look good on replay, although there was some hope when Bars was able to exit the field on his own two feet. He was later announced out for the rest of the game, and watched from the sideline with an ice pack on his knee, and a dejected look on his face.
During his conference call on Sunday, Kelly confirmed it was likely as bad as it looked. “Our doctors feel the worst is possible here with the knee. Which is devastating for us. We’re losing a captain and we’re losing somebody that is respected and revered by so many in the program.” Initial reports say it’s a torn ACL/MCL in the knee, with surgery likely to soon follow. He’s looking at a six to nine month recovery.
Notre Dame Has Good Depth On The Line
On paper, Notre Dame can absorb this and keep a high level of play on the line. Senior Trevor Ruhland, who started at right guard for the injured Tommy Kraemer against Wake Forest, took over for Bars against Stanford and held his own in the captains absence. He’s seen as Mr. Utility for the front line, able to play either of the guard spots and also center. He was lauded by Kelly for his instincts especially, and he is known as an excellent pass blocker who is willing to fight in the ground game. “We don’t have to alter our game plan or calls when Trevor’s in there. He’s very reliable. He doesn’t have the size Alex does, but he brings some other strengths. He’s very instinctive, very smart.”
His ability to work well with Sam Mustipher is key for the continuity of the line, and he’s already proven he can fit in nicely.
Sophomore Aaron Banks will also see time at guard with Ruhland, although I’d expect the senior to see most of the work. Banks has been involved every week and has been preparing to play for some time, so in terms of quality bodies, Notre Dame is ok.
Replacing The Quality And Leadership Is No Easy Task
When the original three captains were announced in the spring, Alex Bars was not among them. And he wasn’t happy about it. He openly spoke about his desire to be named captain, and vowed to play and carry himself in a way that would earn him that honor. It came to fruition, as he was added to the trio post-spring. He might have been Notre Dame’s best offensive lineman anyway, but when you have a player with that kind of buy-in and accountability, it is invaluable to a football team.
He’s one of the tone setters, he sets the standard. Not having someone like that out there is hard to quantify, but you know it means something. He can still be a leader in the locker room, but it doesn’t carry the same weight.
And as I mentioned just above, he might have been their best offensive lineman, depending on how you feel about Sam Mustipher. So while Notre Dame has the players to come in and play well, Bars was one of the best players on the team, and not having him is a punch in the gut, there is no getting around it.
However, they are fortunate to be able to plug someone in that won’t alter what the offense wants to do, and they are also fortunate the toughest defensive line they face has already been defeated. Football is a game of attrition as much as execution and as they enter the seasons second month, Notre Dame will have a chance to win that battle, albeit without one of their star players.