Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Sunday the suspension of two players for two games each, including starting senior running back and 2011 leading rusher Cierre Wood. Reserve defensive end Justin Utopo was also suspended, both for an unspecified violation of team rules.
"Our players are aware of the standards I set for our program and that failure to meet my expectations will result in consequences," Kelly said in a statement. "Justin and Cierre violated our team rules so I've suspended them for the first two games of the season."
Rumors have swirled about a possible disciplinary issue with Wood for some time, and per an NBC Inside the Irish report that first broke the news of his suspension, his suspension is not a new development within the program. Kelly has been preparing for Wood's absence throughout fall camp, NBC reported, with most of that extra preparation falling on the shoulders of new presumptive starter Theo Riddick.
Riddick, a senior, ran for 63 yards last season on 14 carries and has 252 career rushing yards. Sophomore George Atkinson is also expected to play a major role against the Midshipmen after seeing spot duty in 2011.
But with both candidates totaling barely more than a quarter of Wood's 1,102-yard 2011 rushing total in their combined careers, Wood's absence could be a heavy blow. For the Irish, it would be just one more ina series that includes quarterbackTommy Rees and linebacker Carlo Calabrese being arrested in May and suspended; starting corner Lo Wood tearing an Achilles tendon in fall camp, making a thin secondary that much thinner; Adidas's newest entry in the "Shamrock Series" of alternate uniforms being pretty much the worst thing ever. Etc.
If there's any good news for the Irish, it's that Vegas won't expect Cierre Wood's absence to hurt them too badly in Week 1; the team is currently slated to travel to Dublin Wednesday as 17-point favorites over their annual rivals. (The Week 2 visit from an improved Purdue team, on paper at least, could be trickier.) But there's also no doubting that Wood's and Utopo's suspensions are just one more headache for a program -- and a head coach -- that need as few of them as possible in what might be a make-or-break season.