Notre Dame’s running backs have combined for 92 yards per game in their last three outings. The Irish spent their week off trying to iron out some of the new wrinkles in their running schemes to ramp up production.
Senior Cierre Wood has only 95 rushing yards and 17 carries so far this season.
Irish coach Brian Kelly said his offense this year switched from a gap-and-pull running attack under former assistant Ed Warriner to an inside-outside zone approach in which he and new offensive line coach Harry Hiestand both feel more comfortable. The new approach requires running backs to wait longer for holes to develop and to make cuts, which means it requires coaches to be just as patient as they want their backs to be.
“The idiosyncrasies of it are really big,” Kelly said Thursday night. “I won’t bore you with the details, but I will say that it takes more patience and we really focused on that this week.”
Kelly said he was impressed with senior Cierre Wood’s step forward in learning how to get loose in the new blocking scheme during the past few days. Wood was conspicuously inconspicuous in a 13-6 win at home over Michigan. He has not seen many carries since his return from a two-week suspension at the start of the season. Last year’s 1,000-yard rusher has only 95 yards on 17 touches with a third of the season in the books.
Miami’s 112th ranked rushing defense should give Wood and his fellow backs a chance to put what they’ve learned during the bye week on display Saturday night in Chicago. The Hurricanes have allowed an average of 225 yards per game on the ground.
One back who won’t be making an appearance at Soldier Field or any other game this season is sophomore Amir Carlisle. The former USC Trojan broke his ankle shortly after transferring to Notre Dame last spring. Nerve damage from the injury had kept him from going full speed consistently until recently.
Kelly said Carlisle is slowly returning to the back they hoped he would be, but he didn’t see the point in trying to force him into a crowded backfield midway through the season.
“We saw some really good things from him, and we don’t want to waste him now,” the coach said. “We’re going to shut him down, put him on scout team. Let him be a great guy over there to let our defense prepare and then have him back for three season of competition.”
Golson is the guy
Despite a smattering of message board rumors late in the week, Kelly reiterated that sophomore Everett Golson will start for the Irish against Miami. Two weeks ago, following the Michigan game, Kelly said he planned to incorporate a secondary game plan that better suits the skills of junior Tommy Rees in case they decided to go to him in the middle of a game, but he’ll remain in his relief role for the foreseeable future.
“Everett will start in week five and we expect him to start in week six, and seven, and eight and nine, 10, 11, 12 and 13,” Kelly said. “He is getting better. There is so much development that is taking place that is not on Saturdays. He’s learning how to practice and communicate. He’s getting other guys lined up. He couldn’t line up underneath the center when he first got here.”
Halloween comes early
Notre Dame will break out its much discussed alternative uniforms against the Hurricanes. Some fans might consider the move ghoulish, but Kelly said playing dress up is only natural in October.
“Who doesn’t have a Halloween costume in October really? Isn’t that what this is? October is a dress-up night. Our guys are going to dress up one time. They’re going to run out there. They’re going to play a football game, and then they’re going to put those away. It’s just Halloween to me,” he said.