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All Wood needs is gloves

Douglas Farmer | Thursday, September 8, 2011

Early in the second quarter Saturday, Cierre Wood took a handoff, slipped past a few defenders, and romped 14 yards into the end zone. He then proudly displayed the gloves you see on the cover of this Insider to the Notre Dame Marching Band, oblivious to the penalty flag behind him which would negate the score.

“These gloves are nice,” Wood said of the accessories he has been raving about since their arrival in June. “Best thing Adidas has made so far.”

When Wood first saw the gloves in the Notre Dame locker room, he immediately tweeted a photo of himself showcasing the pattern which forms a complete leprechaun when his hands are held just right. In similar fashion, the junior wasted no time in showcasing his abilities Saturday, in his first season as the outright starter at running back.

On Notre Dame’s first snap from the line of scrimmage, Wood caught a screen pass near the right sideline, moved across the field, and covered 31 yards to enter South Florida territory. By the end of the afternoon, Wood had set career highs in carries (21), rushing yards (104), and tied his career high in touchdowns with a score in the fourth quarter.

Add in his three receptions for 44 yards and all in all, it was a pretty good start to the season for the California native.

“Cierre’s just a better football player than he was a year ago,” Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said. “You’re just seeing the results of his hard work, and I would anticipate that Cierre will have a lot of good nights running the football as the season goes on.”

Last season Wood started five of Notre Dame’s 13 games, using 119 carries to total 603 yards. Obviously, he is already well ahead of that pace this season. Aside from one hit, Wood insisted he woke up feeling fine Sunday morning.

“My neck was really hurting, other than that I was fine,” he said. “I was going over a guy, and started leaning, and he brushed past me, and I got a little whiplash effect.”

Aside from the tweaked neck — which in fact cut this interview short as Wood was whisked off to the trainers’ room for treatment — Wood said he was ready for even more in Notre Dame’s loss.

“I wanted to be in the game more as the game went on,” he said. “In the beginning I was a little tired, had to get my body used to going through so many plays at one time. But after the first drive, I was good to go. I wanted to get on the field as often as I could.”

Wood should be careful what he wishes for, as Molnar said more is assuredly a possibility.

“He’s well prepared for it,” Molnar said. “He’s done the work in the offseason as far as the weight training and the conditioning and getting himself mentally prepared for that task, and in the spring he had a lot of carries.

“As the weather gets cooler, that’ll work in his favor. I wouldn’t be surprised if Cierre has 200-plus carries this year.”

More, and smarter

Just because Wood utilized a career-high in carries to produce a career-high in yards does not mean he felt his tallies were enough. In fact, he is disappointed with some pieces of his performance.

“I want to explode a bit better,” he said. “There were a couple times where I saw a hole I could have gone to, but I went somewhere else. I want to make more decisive decisions on where I go.”

While Wood didn’t go so far as to say he missed holes, the “better reads” he should have made frustrated him so much because of the work he put in with the offensive line during the offseason.

“We worked really hard over the offseason as far as the run game goes. I was always talking with the linemen, and asking them how they block this play, that play, making sure everything is correct.

“That way I can make sure my reads are correct. When I fit off them, everything is correct, make sure my footwork is correct. It’s a lot of hard work that got us to this point.”

And while some success has come, that hard work has not stopped.

“It was good, but it can get a lot better,” Wood said. “That’s what we’re doing. We’re working day-in, day-out to make the run game as good as possible.

“I know what we’re capable of. I know what we can do. I know what we have done.”

Big duties at the Big House

Hitting the road, heading to the first night game in Michigan Stadium history, the Irish will need to silence the Wolverines’ crowd early or suffer the wrath of 109,000 fans.

It will be a familiar experience for Wood, minus the darkness and the active role on the field, that is. Two years ago, Wood watched Michigan come from behind to upset No. 18 Notre Dame with a last-minute touchdown 38-34. Throughout the whole game, Wood, mired in a redshirt season, envisioned himself on the field.

“I loved every second of it,” he said. “I was imagining myself out there at the time, and this time around it’s going to be a reality for me.

“It was an experience that I think everyone who plays football should have. The Big House is a real college football environment. Fans are cussing at you, just like you’d think they are.”

Wood has plans for that crowd though, hoping to start off in a similar fashion as he did against South Florida. Against the Bulls, not only did Wood gain 31 yards on the opening play, but he also added 60 net rushing yards in the opening quarter.

“If we are rolling on offense as far as the run game goes, we’ll take the crowd right out of it. If we start hitting them with 20-yard runs, 30-yard runs, they’ll start backing up, and then we’ll hit them with the air game.”

That air game knows it is a piece of the run game as well. Without senior receiver Michael Floyd’s blocking on the edge, Wood’s getaway speed would run out of space much more frequently. When too aggressive though, the edge blocking can be counter-productive — the holding penalty on Wood’s initial touchdown run against South Florida was indeed on Floyd, who was attempting the block which sprung Wood.

“It’s a huge responsibility for me, and I think it’s a big thing for the other wide receivers too,” Floyd said. “You never know when [senior] Jonas Gray or Cierre Wood is going to pop out of the backfield, just making sure that we do our job, and that’s catching balls, but also run blocking on the perimeter.”

The better he is at it, the easier Floyd’s life becomes.

“That’s a huge lift off our shoulders knowing that the defense has to worry about our running game too,” the preseason All-American said. “When they have to worry about both passing and running, it makes it kind of easier for us and it makes it easier for [Wood] to be able to split through holes and get five, six yards for us.”

And before long, those “five, six yards” can turn into touchdowns, to build on Wood’s five total from last season. Once in the end zone, he’ll be back to displaying those gloves.

“As long as it’s not excessive celebration.”