Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau will miss significant time and possibly the whole season with a lower-body injury suffered in practice Wednesday, according to multiple reports. Coach Brian Kelly did not mention the injury during his Wednesday media availability, likely waiting to see a diagnosis before officially announcing it. Kelly will next address the media Monday prior to the Florida State game.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Liufau looked like a good bet to start at one of the linebacker positions for the Irish, likely the Will (weak-side inside linebacker) slot. He impressed in fall camp, making an acrobatic interception in one practice when he blitzed, batted a pass in the air, caught it as it was falling and then sprinted the other way for a "touchdown."
"Emotional control is the thing that is No. 1, he's playing within himself a lot better," Kelly said of Liufau during camp. "The discipline at (Will linebacker) is really crucial and he's shown that. That's maturity. Marist would tell you he played outside the lines a lot and that was one of the things he had to get better at. And he’s stronger. You see what he looks like. All those other things are coming together. He’s a versatile player. He can pass rush off the edge. He can cover guys. He can play on the inside. He can do a lot of things for us."
Liufau, a redshirt sophomore, came on at the end of the 2020 season, starting in the ACC Championship Game against Clemson and in the College Football Playoff against Alabama and totaling 12 tackles in those contests. He did not look overwhelmed in either game against an elite opponent. There is no doubt this injury hurts the Irish.
Still, all is not lost. Linebacker is one of the positions at which Notre Dame has the most depth, though not a ton of experience. In Liufau's absence, redshirt sophomore JD Bertrand and senior Shayne Simon are likely to see the biggest bump in snaps. Bertrand took snaps with the No. 2 defense at Will during camp and stood out as a pass-rusher, though he is still unproven. Simon, a former top 100 recruit at outside linebacker, started eight games at Will last season and has played in 31 contests in his Irish career, but has never quite made his mark. He'll get much more of an opportunity to do so now.