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Running backs forge new identity at Notre Dame

| Friday, November 10, 2017

There are a lot of reasons you could point to as to how Notre Dame has moved from 80th to fifth in rushing offense in one season.

You could point to the hiring of Chip Long as offensive coordinator and his commitment to a physical, run-heavy style of play.

You could also point to head coach Brian Kelly, and his decision to depart from his past offenses and commit to a run attack, resulting in the best rushing offense Kelly has ever coached.

You could even point to the offensive line, led by preseason All-Americans Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, who have turned the unit into a matchup nightmare for any front seven in the country.

But at the end of the day, only one group really dictates Notre Dame’s nation-leading seven yards per carry — the running backs.

Notre Dame’s running attack comes first and foremost through its main man, potential Heisman candidate Josh Adams. The only junior captain on the roster, Adams is having a stellar year, averaging 132.3 yards per game and a whopping 8.7 yards for carry, and is leading by example for the newly-minted Irish and their “#33Trucking” campaign.

Chris Collins | The Observer
Irish junior running back Josh Adams takes a handoff from junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush during Notre Dame’s 35-14 win over North Carolina State on Oct. 28 at Notre Dame Stadium.

“He’s just a guy that comes to work for our football team each and every day, does the work as hard as he can without saying a word about it to anybody,” graduate student captain and left tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “[He] knows he’s the best, and we think he’s the best in the country. And that doesn’t change his approach to the game, and I think that speaks a lot to his character.

“And he’s just a great leader. You just can’t really say enough good things about who Josh Adams, the person is, because he’s just out of this world.”

But as good as he’s been, Adams isn’t the only weapon in the Irish arsenal.

Notre Dame has not one, not two, not three but four running backs who have found the endzone this season. When Adams has been out, Notre Dame has been able to turn to the dependable sophomore Tony Jones Jr. or the explosive junior Dexter Williams. And with the surprise inclusion of freshman Deon McIntosh, who has quietly become the team’s third leading rusher with 367 yards and five touchdowns, the Irish have a wealth of talent at their disposal.

“It’s awesome for us,” McGlinchey said on the team’s depth in running the ball. “No matter who is carrying the ball, our job is the same. That’s the cool thing about what we do up front is that we’ve got so many playmakers all around us, whether it’s Brandon, Josh, Tony, Dexter or Deon or the guys on the outside.

“We’ve just had so many guys that have stepped up in such big ways this season that it’s been awesome for us. And makes our job up front a lot of fun. And it’s cool to see. It’s the kind of thing we’ve preached on since I got here, the next man mentality. And it’s something that the running back room has taken a lot of pride in. And they’ve done a great job. Obviously Josh is their leader and he’s our guy … But it just shows that we have a lot of talent on this football team ready to step up whenever their name is called.”

With this “next man up mentality,” the Irish have turned into a dominant force on the run, regardless of who’s in the backfield. Coupled with the legs of junior Brandon Wimbush, who has run for a program-record 13 rushing touchdowns as a quarterback so far this season, Notre Dame’s run attack has become a multi-headed weapon. This was just the case Saturday against Wake Forest, for while Adams only managed five carries for 22 yards before leaving the contest, the rest of Notre Dame’s running backs stepped up to help contribute to a season-high 710 yards of total offense.

“Any of those guys has tremendous ability to go in there and do tremendous things for the offense, like you’ve seen in a game, Tony getting in the end zone, Deon breaking tackles and scoring and stuff like that, Dexter breaking away and doing what he does, it’s nothing new,” Adams said on his position-mates. “It’s exciting to see all those guys getting out there and doing their thing, because we have so much love for each other and we are constantly competing with each other, just seeing who can do the best and who can make the most plays, and that’s what makes us such a great group.

“You just want to be out there with them, but whoever’s out there, we’re playing for each other, so you know that the mind is right and regardless of who’s out there they are playing for the guys that can’t be.”

All in all, the mentality has paid off so far for the Irish. It all started with Brian Kelly’s decision in the offseason to change the essence of the offense, and now his running corps is starting to validate the decision.

“It was a change of philosophy in terms of what we were going to really hang our hat on, if you will, in terms of who we were going to be, our identity,” Kelly said. “Our identity was going to run through that offensive line. You know, when you talk about it, it’s one thing. But when you actually do it, I think it started to show itself, you know, certainly we didn’t run the ball as effectively as we wanted to against Georgia.

“But I think when we broke through with over 500 yards rushing against Boston College, I think that that was really where everything started to kind of, you know, show itself; that this is who we were going to be, and then it’s, you know, certainly taken shape from there.

“…We should be really good at running the football here at Notre Dame.”

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About Tobias Hoonhout

Toby served as Managing Editor in the 2018-2019 term.

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