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November 7, 2012

Numbers crunch new concern

While some might say that divine intervention has helped Notre Dame squeak out five straight victories at home, all by seven points or less, Brian Kelly wouldn't mind if the NCAA stepped in to help him out with a problem that has vexed the Irish coaching staff this season.

The culprit? Duplicate numbers on the field at the same time, which is a penalty.

"I'd like the NCAA to come in and say, 'Only one guy can have this number,'" said Kelly in reference to the two No. 2s - Bennett Jackson and Chris Brown - on the field simultaneously as Pittsburgh's Kevin Harper attempted a game-winning field goal in the second overtime of Notre Dame's 29-26 triple-overtime victory.

"That would make my life a whole lot easier."

The Irish were penalized for duplicate numbers in the Purdue game when two No. 15s - Dan McCarthy and Justin Ferguson - were on the field simultaneously. A five-yard penalty in the Pittsburgh game would have given the Panthers a first down at the Irish 11-yard line with a fresh set of downs to either try to score a touchdown or at least position the football in the middle of the field for a field goal of 28 yards or less.

Currently, Notre Dame has 14 duplicate numbers on its 2012 roster, eight of which are shared by scholarship players. In two instances, a scholarship player and a walk-on share a number while four sets of walk-ons have duplicate numbers.

"It's something that's changed over the last few years in recruiting where kids have this identification with a particular number," Kelly said.

The scholarship duplicates are: No. 2 (Bennett Jackson, Chris Brown), No. 4 (George Atkinson III, Eilar Hardy), No. 5 (Manti Te'o, Everett Golson), No. 6 (Theo Riddick, KeiVarae Russell), No. 7 (TJ Jones, Stephon Tuitt), No. 9 (Louis Nix III, Robby Toma), No. 11 (Tommy Rees, Ishaq Williams), and No. 82 (Alex Welch, Justin Ferguson). Ferguson changed from No. 15 to No. 82. Welch, the other No. 82, is out for the season with a knee injury.

In each instance, an offensive player and a defensive player share the number. But the possibility exists of both being on the field at the same time on special teams.

Safety Zeke Motta shares No. 17 with walk-on quarterback Charlie Fiessinger while punter Ben Turk wears No. 35, as does walk-on cornerback Joe Romano. The Nos. 38 (Joe Schmidt, Nick Fitzpatrick), 39 (Jude Rhodes, Ryan Liebscher), 46 (Josh Anderson, Eamon McOsker) and 49 (Tyler Plantz, Blake Breslau) are worn by walk-ons.

Currently, there are 10 numbers unaccounted for on Notre Dame's roster: 25, 58, 68, 76, 79, 90, 95, 97, 98 and 99. Typically, receivers used to wear numbers in the 80s while running backs generally wore numbers in the 20s, 30s and 40s. Linebackers wore numbers in the 40s and 50s. Numbers in the 70s, 80s and 90s almost always went to defensive linemen.

Now, defensive linemen Tuitt and Nix, and linebackers Te'o and Kendall Moore (8) are wearing single-digit numbers.

Among single-digit numbers, only 1, 3 and 8 are not duplicated by scholarship players, but that could change next year with a quarterback (Malik Zaire), a running back (Jamel James), four receivers (James Onwualu, William Fuller, Torii Hunter, Jr., and Corey Robinson), three cornerbacks (Cole Luke, Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw) and a linebacker (Jaylon Smith, who might be inclined to wear a single digit) arriving. Duplicate numbers 5, 6, and 9 will become available with the departures of Te'o, Riddick and Toma.

"I think it's still manageable," Kelly said. "We just have to do a better job coaching. It's unacceptable that two guys had the same number in the game. We've got to be able to manage that."





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