Trio of backs paces Irish run attack to big game
Renee Griffin | Monday, September 28, 2015
Senior C.J. Prosise got the rushing attack rolling right away for No. 6 Notre Dame in its 62-27 rout of Massachusetts on Saturday, breaking the 100-yard mark before the first quarter and giving the Irish the lead with his 57-yard sprint to the end zone about nine minutes in.
Unlike the last few games, though, Prosise was not the only rusher to put up big numbers. His 149 yards and two touchdowns came early, as he stayed on the sidelines for much of the second half.
The rest of Notre Dame’s whopping 457 yards on the ground — the first time the team has broken the 400-yard mark since 1996 — came primarily from freshman running backs Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, with freshman quarterback Brandon Wimbush adding 92 yards, highlighted by a keeper he took 58 yards for a touchdown.
Williams also recorded his first collegiate score when he skittered in from 14 yards out in the third quarter, and he had 48 yards by the end of the day.
Adams had to wait until the fourth quarter for his touchdown, the third of his career and the last Irish score of the night. He outran Minutemen defenders 70 yards to the goal line and finished with 133 total rushing yards for a personal high.
“I’ve had a lot of carries the last couple games, so it was good to get a little rest today,” Prosise said. “I know the fans are going to be happy to see that this freshman class that came in this year is really good. They had a lot of people score today, and I think in the future those guys are going to be making some big plays here.”
Adams even played significant time when the game was close, at one point 21-20 in the second quarter.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he came in Saturday with the intention of dispersing the carries more than in the first three games, giving Prosise a break after he took the bulk of the load in those wins.
“The young backs stand out to me; Adams and Williams getting in was very, very important to us,” Kelly said. “We probably redlined C.J. a little bit. … It was nice to see [Adams] run well.
“And then Dexter obviously is a very gifted player, and we saw that today. He’s got great speed. He’s just still learning, but I think we all saw today what kind of athletic ability he has.”
Prosise, Kelly and sophomore quarterback DeShone Kizer, who ran nine times for 42 yards, all credited Notre Dame’s offensive line for the dominant rushing the team has enjoyed so far.
“You’ve got to give it to the offensive line,” Kizer said. “No matter who’s running behind that, there’s going to be some sort of a hole or some sort of gap.
“If the young guys are patient, they’re going to get their yards.”
Kizer also complimented the young runners on their performance and noted how their different approaches could make the Notre Dame running game harder to defend.
“Dexter is an explosive style of guy,” Kizer said. “Josh kind of runs the ball a little different; he likes getting north and south a little more, and it brings a little more of a variance to the way the Irish are going to run the ball.”
None of the three backs whose legs carried the Irish to the convincing victory over Massachusetts have significant experience at the position, as Prosise was thrust into the starting role when junior back Tarean Folston tore an ACL in the first game and had just converted from receiver during the spring.
Kelly said that along with Prosise’s natural running ability, the addition of first-year running backs coach Autry Denson has been key to the team’s success on the ground.
“Autry Denson does a great job,” Kelly said. “He’s our all-time leading rusher here at Notre Dame. He’s able to have conversations about the position that are real in the way that he’s played the position, so he can really impact [Prosise] with a lot of knowledge, so that’s been very helpful with his learning curve.”
The trio of Prosise, Adams and Williams, along with contributions at the quarterback position, will look to continue the current Irish streak of five games with more than 200 rushing yards when they visit Clemson next week.