Tarean Folston left the ground at the two-yard line and instincts took over again. The freshman landed in the end zone — giving the Notre Dame a 38-34 lead that would finally stick Saturday night against Navy — and finally came back down to Earth.
Freshman Tarean Folston leaps into the end zone from a yard out Saturday for his first career touchdown.
Folston elevated his play Saturday and provided the offensive surge the Irish needed to go swing for swing with the Midshipmen’s triple option on the ground. He ran for 140 yards on 18 carries, both career highs, and punctuated a breakout day with his first collegiate touchdown with less than four minutes to play.
The rookie said he never went airborne to get any of his 46 career touchdowns at Cocoa High School in south Florida, but when the pile stacked in front of him Saturday he didn’t think twice.
“I was just reading my keys and it was a big mess so I just jumped over,” he said. “I never dove over [an offensive line] in my life.”
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly has stuck by his philosophy of feeling out his full stock of running backs before leaning on a “hot hand” in each of the team’s first nine games this season. But the sense that a starring performance was on the horizon for Folston has been building since the team’s bye week in mid-October.
“We knew it was just a matter of time before he broke loose and really showed what he’s capable of doing,” senior receiver TJ Jones said. “Now he’s just set the bar for himself, and we’re going to expect that from him every time.”
He carried 11 times in a 45-10 win against Air Force a week earlier, many of those coming after the passing attack had built a comfortable lead. Kelly said following he was committed to getting Folson as many touches as he could once they felt the game was comfortably in hand in Colorado.
This week Folston got started early, carrying twice on the second drive of the game for a total of 15 yards. The majority of his work still came in the second half, when he had 15 of his carries and 112 yards. Prior to the Navy game, he had a career total of 116 yards on 22 carries.
“He was running well, and just felt like we'd stick with him in terms of the way he was running,” Kelly said. “…We're looking for guys to go north and south and make people miss, and I think if you look at all his runs, he by and large did that.”
The coach said he was disappointing in Folston’s inability to get upfield on one play, and then he still did enough then to pick up a first down on a 2nd-and-1 conversion. He highlighted the showcase game in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard run that started by hurtling a lineman at the line of scrimmage then shaking a linebacker to get to the defense’s next level. He had three carries on that drive and all went for at least 14 yards.
Kelly said Folston’s conditioning has steadily improved throughout his first fall in college football. He would not have been strong enough to carry a heavy load late in the fourth quarter in September.
The Irish will likely return to their equal opportunity running game to start another game next week against Pittsburgh, but for at least one night the freshman gave Notre Dame a glimpse of what its future might hold at the position.
“Everybody’s time comes,” he said. “And I feel like my time came today.”