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Football: The little engine that Cam

Jack Hefferon | Monday, September 16, 2013

Cam McDaniel stands a generous 5-foot-10, has never started on anything but special teams for the Irish, and had a stitched-up head wound in the fourth quarter at Purdue on Saturday.

But clinging to a seven-point lead, it was the slight, inexperienced and banged-up junior running back that Irish coach Brian Kelly tapped to close out Notre Dame’s second win of the season.

McDaniel answered the call, as the Irish fed him the ball on 10 of 11 plays on the game’s final drive. That drive started with 7:22 left on the clock, the Boilermakers still holding all three of their timeouts, and the Irish just trying to pound the ball up the middle to finish the game.

But even knowing exactly where the ball was going was not enough for the defense to stop McDaniel. His 42 yards rushing on that drive nearly doubled Notre Dame’s total for the game, and his two key third-down pickups allowed the Irish to run the game clock dry and secure the victory.

“We were trying to run out the game. We were in our four-minute offense,” Kelly said Saturday. “[McDaniel] was the guy that we had decided was going to run the football for us at the end of the game. He was the hot hand at that time.”

In addition to his clutch running down the stretch, McDaniel was able to shine in nearly every facet of the game. He scored Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game – a one-yard dive up the middle – to tie the game at 10, then made a touchdown-saving tackle on the ensuing kickoff. McDaniel also had one reception, a nearly-intercepted screen pass that he ripped out of a defender’s arms to keep Notre Dame’s first scoring drive alive.

“He definitely impacted the game, no question. You saw how hard he runs,” Kelly said. “He was a huge part of what we did tonight.”

McDaniel’s relentless mentality shows up in every carry, but was especially evident in one effort near the end of the first half. With under a minute remaining, he rushed to the 3-yard-line before getting held up by the Boilermaker defense.

A would-be tackler separated McDaniel’s helmet from his head, but the junior continued to stretch toward the goal line, taking another hit before going down. The second blow opened up a gash above his right ear that required four stitches at halftime, but McDaniel never missed a snap.

“I just remember having a collision with somebody and my helmet popped off,” he said. “Then somebody else came in and hit me in the back of the head.”

Being able to get in the game at all was a blessing for McDaniel, who ran just 26 times in his first two seasons, mostly in mop up duty. It seemed like the Coppell, Texas, native may have had a hard time seeing the field this season with the Irish carrying five quality running backs – including fellow juniors George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle – into the year. But McDaniel’s play has earned him time to show what he can do out of the backfield, a chance he isn’t taking for granted.

“It’s always a great opportunity to really get in the game and just be able to let loose,” he said. “I just praise God for the opportunity.”

Contact Jack Hefferon at [email protected]