SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly sized up the situation and said the call was solely his when he suspended starting running back Cierre Wood and backup defensive Justin Utupo two games each for violating team rules.
"We want more accountable citizens. We want people representing our program in the right way," Kelly said Tuesday, the day before the Irish leave for their season opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
"When we suspend somebody, I look at it in terms of how are we going to get this young man to live up to the standards that I have for our program," he added.
Wood rushed for 1,102 yards last season, while Utupo played mainly on special teams. The team has not said why either was suspended. Kelly has also suspended quarterback Tommy Rees and linebacker Carlos Calabrese for the opener for their roles in a skirmish with police following a party in May.
So, the Irish face Navy with four players suspended, not a great way to start the coach's third season in South Bend -- one that features a challenging schedule.
Kelly said the call on disciplining Wood and Utupo, announced Sunday, was entirely his to make.
"This is strictly an independent decision that I made relative to the decisions that those young men made. And they violated the rules that our players know; and the rules that they know every single day about being in this program," he said without being specific.
Wood and Utupo also will miss the home opener the following week against Purdue.
"You understand that as a head coach with 18- to 22-year-olds, that you hope that everybody makes good decisions all the time. I hope my son makes good decisions; my daughter," Kelly said. "But I think we all get disappointed, but we also know that they are young and we want them to learn from the mistakes that they made. And in this instance, we are hoping that Cierre, Justin, I'm very confident that they will learn from their mistakes."
Theo Riddick, who came to Notre Dame as a running back before Kelly made him a slot receiver two years ago, has returned to his original role and will be the likely starter for Wood with sophomore George Atkinson III also in the mix. Amir Carlisle, a transfer from Southern California, is still recovering from a broken ankle. Cam McDaniel, who had switched to defensive back, has returned to the offensive side for depth.
Notre Dame will line up against the Midshipmen for a 9 a.m. EDT kickoff Saturday with an untested quarterback in sophomore Everett Golson, who won a quarterback derby and beat out Andrew Hendrix to be the starter.
Kelly said he spent more time with the quarterbacks during fall camp, improving the communication that is vital, especially from the sidelines where he calls the plays and has them signaled in by backups.
Notre Dame threw 17 interceptions last season and Kelly said it is imperative the Irish clean it up offensively, especially near the end zone.
Golson is not going to be perfect and his coach knows it.
"He will make mistakes. Let's make it clear; he will make mistakes," Kelly said. "But it's those poor decisions that we have to eradicate."
Kelly and new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin have been impressed by the way Golson has minimized turnovers and gaffes throughout fall camp.
"Our offensive staff feels as though he's disciplined in his approach, that he understands the routine of the quarterback position," he said. "If he's not out of character on Saturday I will safely say, he will do a very good job of taking care of the football."
OT Zack Martin, TE Tyler Eifert, LB Manti Te'o and DE Kapron Lewis-Moore were named captains. ... The Irish have a long day ahead Wednesday with a morning practice, classes, some weight training and meetings and then a flight to Dublin. ... Notre Dame also faced Navy in Dublin in 1996, Lou Holtz's final season as coach; the Irish won 54-27.