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Notre Dame Backs Stay In Motion

Prior to Saturday’s 45-10 victory at Air Force, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly specifically noted to the broadcasting crew at CBSSports that he wanted to get junior running backs George Atkinson III and Amir Carlisle untracked and into a much better rhythm.

Freshman Tarean Folston is trying to get more reps in the backfield.

It never quite materialized. Atkinson’s six carries netted only 18 yards, and his one reception gained one yard. Meanwhile, Carlisle’s three carries totaled three yards.

On the other hand, classmate Cam McDaniel remained the most consistent mainstay in the backfield with his 10 carries for 61 yards, while freshman Tarean Folston’s team high 11 attempts produced 47 yards, highlighted by a number of yards coming after the initial hit or via picking up yardage through minimal crevices. The backfield by committee has the following output after eight games:

• McDaniel has been the most consistent back week to week with his team high 91 carries for 416 yards and 4.6 yards per carry. He is able to pick up the tough yards inside but also is comfortable with zone reads outside.

• Atkinson’s 70 carries have produced 381 yards and a team high 5.4 yards per carry, highlighted by his 80-yard touchdown sprint in the loss to Oklahoma, where he picked up a season high 148 yards on 14 attempts. The rest of his 56 carries have resulted in a modest 4.1 yards average.

• Carlisle has become the enigma. He opened the year with a 45-yard run on the first play and led the team in rushing against Temple (seven carries, 68 yards) and the next week at Michigan (12 carries, 64 yards). Since then, his 25 carries have totaled 61 yards, a 2.4 average per attempt. His totals are 44 carries for 193 yards, or 4.4 yards per carry.

• Folston is beginning to make a push for more reps. His 22 carries have totaled 116 yards, or 5.3 yards per carry.

Kelly indicated in his Sunday teleconference that he doesn’t expect the running back rotation to go through too much flux as the team begins its November push. He isn’t seeking a defined pecking order.

“We want to continue to get as much out of each player as possible,” Kelly said. “We never want to get that point where we’re saying, ‘Alright, we’ve decided on A, B or C.’ We’re far [along] in the season where we still want to be able to maximize the talents of each player.

“Having said that, if we feel like we’ve got a guy out there that is hot, we’re certainly going to ride him as we close the month of November.”

Early on against Air Force, the zone running schemes weren’t as effective. In the second half with McDaniel and Folston, the gap blocking became more productive.

“We have to run zone schemes, we have to run gap schemes, we did a better job mixing them up,” Kelly summarized.

Another missing element out of the backfield has been pass catching. The graduated Theo Riddick excelled in that role (he was a wideout in Kelly’s first two seasons) with 36 catches for 370 yards and two scores last year. In the three October games, running backs were non-factors in the vertical-oriented passing game, combining for two catches. They had none versus Arizona State, McDaniel had one for five yards versus USC and Atkinson’s one against Air Force was good for one yard.

When asked to assess Folston’s progress, Kelly said it’s been going well.

“He’s making nice progress,” Kelly said. “…You have to be really good to take reps away from each one of those guys, but he’s done that. He ran the ball well and effectively and he continues to get better each and every week.”

Blocking, blitz pick-up, etc., haven’t been the main factors in Folston not seeing the field more, according to Kelly. Right now his role is to improve with the ball, not just without it.

“We haven’t asked him to do a ton of it, quite frankly,” said Kelly of Folston’s blocking. “As he continues to grow and mature and getting more reps, he’s going to have to do more of those things … That will be the next level for him.”

Injury Report
Offensive left guard Chris Watt suffered a knee strain against Air Force that led junior Conor Hanratty to play extensively in his place, while junior defensive end Sheldon Day’s ankle continues to be a problem. That resulted in freshman Isaac Rochell seeing much more action and finishing with four tackles. Rochell and classmate/cornerback Cole Luke earned praise from Kelly for their efforts this weekend.

Kelly lists both Watt and Day as “probable” for the upcoming game against Navy. He is hopeful Watt will answer the bell for his 35th consecutive start.

Junior Cat linebacker/end Ishaq Williams, however, is listed as “doubtful” for Navy after suffering a knee injury early against the Falcons. Sophomore Romeo Okwara, junior Ben Councell, senior Justin Utupo and junior Anthony Rabasa all saw a lot of action on the flanks in his place.

Nose guard Louis Nix III did not make the trip to Colorado Springs while battling tendinitis in his knee. Whether he will play against Navy will depend on what kind of quality practices he is able to have, according to Kelly, who still lists Nix as “questionable.”

“When you’re playing an option team, it’s really about getting out there and getting acclimated to what you’re going to see,” Kelly said. “If he has a few days of practice where we really like it, I can change that.”

The cut blocks of service academy teams play a role in the decision, but it’s not the overriding one.

“They don’t like it, clearly,” Kelly said. “They’d rather have teams that don’t go below the waist, but I think they’ve become more aware of how to defend and take on those blocks that it’s less of a concern. … I don’t think they fear injury when they play option teams.”

Sophomore offensive right tackle Ronnie Stanley also was banged up after the Air Force game “but nothing that really concerns me yet,” Kelly said.

Ratings Game
Notre Dame is 25th in the coaches' poll but still not in the Top 25 of the AP poll. Kelly was diplomatic about the situation, even though the Irish defeated two teams (Michigan State and Arizona State) ranked ahead of them.

“I think we’re still in a pretty good position as long as we win,” Kelly said. “...We’re only 6-2. If we take care of business and win week after week — we’ve got some quality teams in front of us — I think we’re right where we need to be. Just keep winning football games.”

  • It should be cam and folston all day

  • thatdude16 said... (original post)

    It should be cam and folston all day

    Agreed. I believe McDaniel has legitimately earned the #1 rb position.

    The tough decision: GAIII has had 3 seasons to groom himself for the position. He looks very uncomfortable and sometimes awkward running with the football. He is explosive and has the potential to take it to the house. He just hasn't learned that every play can not be a home run. He also hasn't learned how to run behind his pads yet. I think he needs to focus on KR and slide down to #3 on the depth chart.

    The clear decision: Insert Tarean Folston, I know this kid still has a huge learning curve to overcome, but it is very clear he has super star potential at the rb position. His vision, acceleration, agility, lateral movement, pad height and running style are all signs of major potential. Since he is past the point of reserving a year, it only makes sense to start increasing his touches per game. Folston is the future of ND.

    This is just the way football works. Young talent is brought in to challenge the existing, if the existing doesn't develop then the younger talent passes them.

    The head scratcher of the group is Carlisle. All the hype and talent, but still looks lost. Sometimes a athletes ability just doesn't translate from high school to college. I would actually prefer for him to change positions and become just a slot guy.

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    My luck w/the Irish 20-6...GO IRISH!!!

  • My very novice observations- GA is simply not a fluid- natural RB for this offense at least...

    He does not seem to have the ability to plant and go- get double pats his feet to cut way to much and for his size still has a real problem breaking an initial tackle and more over just not a lot of wiggle-

    I would love to see the Frosh a bit more to see what he has... just me I have seen enough of GA to know he for some reason just does not explode and go... but as I said just a amateurs observation from where I sit...

    Dan

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  • GA3 needs to be moved to the slot. He's not decisive enough for this offense to move consistently. On the other hand, I'm still looking for the game that the O-line gets the push up front for the entire game like they did in the 4th Quarter of this game. I'm not sure if it's the play calling or what but I'd love to see this team run the ball effectively for all four quarters!!

  • Thanks for the great update. I remember him being highly touted when we signed him and wanted to see "what happened."

    Maybe he will eventually be one of those players that finally finds the his way onto the field and blossoms his senior year.

  • If Kelly reversed the rotation, I would be willing to wager that the results would be different. In each of the last several games, Alkinson and Carlisle ran the ball in the first half. McDaniels and now Folston ran in the second half. There have not been many good running holes in the first half. In the second half, perhaps due to conditioning or maybe because the line figures out the scheme, the holes exist. Morevover, Carlisle seems to have fallen into the Robert Hughes dog house after his fumble against Purdue. I note that McDaniels fumbled against SC, but the same concern has not arisen as to Cam.

    I like all of our backs. I do not, however, necessarily agree that the production is an indication that McDaniels and Folston are better backs. I would like to see both Carlisle and Atkinson get a chance in the second half on Saturday. In truth, I would particularly like to see Carlisle get a chance to run the ball more than 4.1667 times a game. He might not produce, but he should get a chance.

    This post was edited by NDDillon 6 months ago

    “Notre Dame? Relevant? Of course. Call me in 90 years, and I’ll give you the same answer.” Neal Pilson, former president of CBS Sports

  • NDDillon said... (original post)

    If Kelly reversed the rotation, I would be willing to wager that the results would be different. In each of the last several games, Alkinson and Carlisle ran the ball in the first half. McDaniels and now Folston ran in the second half. There have not been many good running holes in the first half. In the second half, perhaps due to conditioning or maybe because the line figures out the scheme, the holes exist. Morevover, Carlisle seems to have fallen into the Robert Hughes dog house after his fumble against Purdue. I note that McDaniels fumbled against SC, but the same concern has not arisen as to Cam.

    I like all of our backs. I do not, however, necessarily agree that the production is an indication that McDaniels and Folston are better backs. I would like to see both Carlisle and Atkinson get a chance in the second half on Saturday. In truth, I would particularly like to see Carlisle get a chance to run the ball more than 4.1667 times a game. He might not produce, but he should get a chance.

    I'm afraid I disagree with your premise. No one deserves a chance at game time. Either it's earned or it's not. Then, when game opportunities come, you have to produce. There might be times when you play a kid because he has a chance to break a big one, but if the trade off is a lot of poor results while waiting on the home run, you're better off getting a bunch of solid efforts from someone else. GAIII and Carlisle just haven't been able to produce on a regular basis. I have a feeling that next year will see Folston and Bryant with McDaniel as number three. Those two kids just have too much talent to keep off the field. McDaniel has the heart to make up for a lack of great moves. I don't see enough in GA III or Carlisle to warrant significant reps.

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