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Football: Irish look for clarity in crowded backfield

Matthew DeFranks | Tuesday, September 3, 2013

In its 28-6 win over Temple, No. 14 Notre Dame played five different running backs and racked up 188 yards on the ground.

Irish coach Brian Kelly said it was still too early in the season to say how the five-man rotation – consisting of juniors George Atkinson, Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel, and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston – will shake out.

“I thought they all went in there and showed that they can help us, but we’re not going to answer the questions about who’s one, who’s two, who’s three, four, five,” Kelly said. “It’s going to take us a few weeks before we get to that.”

McDaniel led the crew with 12 carries but it was Carlisle who topped the box score with 68 yards. Carlisle, the USC transfer, averaged nearly 10 yards per carry and opened the game with a 45-yard run.

“None of these guys have a lot of experience,” Kelly said. “So it’s going to take us some time to kind of work through it. We’ve got some growing pains a little bit at the position, but they’re all gifted players, but I think it’s going to take us a little time as we grow. We’re willing to play them all and we’re willing to take all of them and their strengths and try to make it work at that position.”

Atkinson, who is listed at the top of the Notre Dame depth chart, was the favorite entering the season to start in the backfield after seeing limited playing time in 2012 behind the now-departed Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood. Atkinson notched 34 yards on eight carries in the season opener.

Kelly said Riddick was the go-to guy for the Irish to finish out close games last season, but is still looking for one of the five backs to emerge as the workhorse.

Preparing for Lewan
Notre Dame and its vaunted defensive line will lock horns with probable first-round pick and Michigan redshirt senior left tackle Taylor Lewan on Saturday.

Lewan has started 36 games – including 29 straight – at left tackle and will try to become Michigan’s ninth offensive lineman to start all four seasons.

Kelly said Lewan’s unique prowess at tackle will force the Irish to contain Michigan running backs on the edge and force them inside.

“Certainly we’re not going to be able to duplicate what he does during the week relative to the demo squad,” Kelly said. “We have to do a great job of keeping the ball inside our defense.

“Sometimes you have to scheme it to make sure that we do that. He’s that kind of player.”

Irish junior defensive lineman Stephon Tuitt will be matched up with Lewan often Saturday, but Kelly said the front calls will dictate just how often.

Updates on Daniels, Zaire

Kelly said junior receiver DaVaris Daniels would return to practice Tuesday.

Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire, who missed the Temple game with mononucleosis, has not been cleared to play yet, Kelly said.

Irish constant in AP poll

Notre Dame stayed put at No. 14 in the latest Associated Press (AP) poll released Tuesday afternoon. In the USA Today coaches’ poll, the Irish dropped two spots from No. 11 to No. 13.

Michigan remained at No. 17 in both polls and the Wolverines are three-point favorites over the Irish.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu