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Football: Five’s a crowd

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, September 18, 2013


No. 22 Notre Dame’s depth chart lists four running backs for two spots and according to Irish coach Brian Kelly, get used to it.

During Tuesday’s weekly press conference, Kelly said the Irish (2-1) will continue to rely on a multitude of running backs on offense. In its win over Purdue on Saturday, Notre Dame had four different running backs notch a carry, with junior Cam McDaniel’s 16 carries and 56 yards leading the way.

On the year, three Irish backs – McDaniel and fellow juniors Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson – have at least 18 carries each and have combined for 371 yards.

Kelly said the Irish have five backs that can contribute to the Notre Dame offense (McDaniel, Carlisle, Atkinson, and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston).

“We haven’t been able to get five on the field,” he said. “I think we’ve gotten three on the field. We’re still I think in the process of trying to evaluate our freshmen, as well, and we have not been able to get into the ideal situation to do that, primarily because we have had to deal with so many pressure fronts and so many times where we are calling our backs back in to protect.

“It has not been the best proving ground for some freshmen running backs. Hopefully, as time moves on, we’ll be able to do that.”

In college football, many teams have shifted toward a running back platoon. Each of the last five national champions have relied on some form of a multi-back system.

“I think across the country, that singular back, that one guy, has not been able to fit all the things that you want to do offensively,” Kelly said. “I think the position has now required a guy that is multi dimensional, and it’s better to find that maybe in two or three different backs.”

Kelly mentioned multi-running back systems at SEC powers Alabama and Georgia from last year as examples of the trend. Alabama used Eddie Lacy and T.J. Yeldon to rack up 248 yards on the ground against the Irish in the BCS National Championship Game, while Georgia relied on Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall to churn out 2,144 rushing yards.

Last season, the Irish looked toward Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood to carry the ball while Atkinson was the third option. Riddick and Wood combined for 1,659 yards.


Irish prepare for Cook

Michigan State (3-0) will come into Notre Dame Stadium with a settled quarterback in sophomore Connor Cook after initially tabbing fifth-year senior Andrew Maxwell the starter in the preseason.

Cook will provide another test for the Irish defense with his legs. In three games (and two starts), Cook has rushed for 70 yards on 15 attempts.

The Irish have struggled with mobile quarterbacks this season, allowing 65 yards to Temple’s Connor Reilly and 82 yards to Michigan’s Devin Gardner. Both quarterbacks led their teams in rushing against the Irish.

Kelly said a dual-threat quarterback adds an extra dimension to the offense.

“There’s a lot more to the dual quarterback, obviously; his ability to make something happen obviously on the run is a lot more difficult, and it changes some of your calls considerably,” Kelly said. “You know, with his ability to run the football, you have to protect your defensive linemen, too. You can’t let them just be by themselves.”

In the 2012 regular season, the Irish allowed quarterbacks to rush for an average of 3.6 yards per game.

“Look, when it gets down to playing quarterbacks that can make plays, it also comes down to the ability to stay in coverage, too,” Kelly said. “Because if they are elusive, they are going to make some of these big guys miss. We’ve got to do a great job with secondary contain, which we have and we will, and we’ve got to do a good job of staying on body and coverage.”

Kelly said freshman quarterback Malik Zaire could move to scout team to help simulate mobile quarterbacks.


Day, Zaire updates

Sophomore defensive lineman Sheldon Day will practice tomorrow, according to Kelly. Day had a sprained ankle and Kelly said he was in a walking boot Tuesday.

Zaire has been cleared by team doctors, he tweeted on Sunday evening. He was out with mononucleosis the first three games of the season.

Kelly said Zaire was in good standing with the doctors but not necessarily with him.

“He learned his lesson relative to what is information that needs to stay within the program,” he said. “He learned his lesson. He touched the stove and we’ve managed that, gotten through it.”


Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu