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Rushing game powers offense in cold-weather win

Isaac Lorton | Sunday, November 24, 2013

With flurries of snow whirling around the stadium, the Irish established their offense on the ground by rushing for 235 yards in Notre Dame’s 23-13 victory over BYU. It is the second most rushing yards on the season for Notre Dame (8-3), behind the 264 yards put up against Navy.
“It was kind of an offensive lineman’s dream today with the wind and running the ball,” senior tackle Zack Martin said. “So we wanted to impose our will on them. In the snow it was a nice little ending there.”
Notre Dame used a trio of backs on the ground against the Cougars (7-4). Junior running back Cam McDaniel ran for a career-best 117-yard performance on 24 carries. Freshman Tarean Folston, who got his first career start, ran the ball for 78 yards and one touchdown on 13 carries. Junior George Atkinson added 42 yards on six carries.
“We kind of rotate our backs,” McDaniel said. “I always expect to get a lot of carries and I think our running backs should by the way we run our offense. So, I was expecting really just being ready for anything.”
Irish coach Brian Kelly focused on running between the tackles in order to counteract the conditions.
“Well, it was hard to get to the perimeter,” Kelly said. “And the way they were playing our outside zone play, the field was a little bit slick. The ice out there started to develop on the field with the weather conditions and made it harder, and players were getting strung out. And Cam is more of a downhill … a physical inside runner, and so him and Tarean got a lot of carries inside out. And George really helped us out a lot today, too, with some good, physical running, as well. But that was the way the running game was set up and that’s how they were defending us.”
The offensive line delivered on the night, despite a knee injury to junior center Nick Martin.
“Our offensive line played absolutely phenomenal,” McDaniel said. “All of those guys played absolutely phenomenal. Even when Nick [Martin] went down, [junior Matt Hegarty] coming in played a heck of a game. Conor Hanratty coming in playing amazing, Steve Elmer as a young guy and then of course Zack [Martin] and [graduate student guard Chris Watt] playing amazing on the left side, you couldn’t ask for more up front.”
All three running backs had at least one rush of 10 or more yards during the game. McDaniel had a 32-yard carry, Folston broke a 48-yard run, while Atkinson sprung a 16-yard run. All three running backs now have a 100-yard rushing game. Atkinson ran for 148 yards against Oklahoma, while Folston rushed for 140 yards against Navy.
“As a running back, that’s what you love, running north and south and holes open up,” McDaniel said. “We just kind of do our thing from there.”
Notre Dame has been able to establish a run game against BYU recently, as last year the Irish rushed for 270 yards.
“The way [the Cougars] are built in their 3-4 defense, we feel like with our big tight ends, we can cover them up,” Kelly said. “I think we just match up a little bit better when they are in their three-down and when they go to four-down, it’s not exactly the way they want to play, because they like to drop eight in coverage. They certainly don’t want to be in four-down.”
The run game established a passing game for the Irish and balanced out the offense. Notre Dame rushed for 235 yards and passed for 235 yards. Senior quarterback Tommy Rees went 15-for-28 and threw one touchdown pass.
“This is the way we’ve got to play football,” Kelly said. “This is Notre Dame football. This is the way we need to play. This is what we’re capable of playing. It’s a much more physical brand of football that we are capable of playing, and quite frankly, our team did that and they responded accordingly.”
Contact Isaac Lorton at ilorton@nd.edu