On May 5, 2020, the No. 2 running back in the 2021 recruiting cycle made his college decision known. Will Shipley was a five-star recruit granted a .9839 grade by 247 Sports Composite. Additionally, he was ranked the 32nd best player regardless of position in 2021. Notre Dame was considered a favorite for Shipley for a long time. The Irish heavily pursued the North Carolina native, making him their clear priority at the position. Yet, on that fateful May 5, Shipley spurned the Irish in favor of the Clemson Tigers, joining Dabo Swinney’s squad.
Shipley’s decision temporarily left the Irish in the lurch. In terms of running back recruiting, most of their attention had gone to Shipley. Simply put, the Irish were a little behind in trying to find a replacement plan. However, following the Shipley commitment, Notre Dame wasted little time. That same day, they pushed out an offer to a Louisiana running back by the name of Logan Diggs. Diggs was a little-known three-star, ranked the 35th-best running back in his class. He earned a .8815 recruiting grade. The Irish pushed hard for Diggs and were rewarded with his commitment in late July. Diggs stuck with the Irish even after receiving a late offer from LSU.
Additionally, the Irish kept fishing and found yet another gem late in the recruiting season. Four-star Audric Estime, a product of St. Joseph’s Regional high school in Montvale, NJ, had been committed to Michigan State since September 2020. But the Irish pursued the big back hard, and on Dec. 15, they offered Estime a spot. Three days later, Estime, given a .9146 grade, de-committed from Michigan State and signed his letter of intent to join Notre Dame’s backfield.
For the Irish, it was a big-time win to pick up two solid players at a position where they had suffered a major recruiting loss just weeks earlier. But, the question did linger, how much would Notre Dame regret losing out on Will Shipley?
Today, the Irish can confidently say “not much.”
Will Shipley has been a good running back for Swinney’s squad, but the Irish have gotten about everything they could ask out of Diggs and Estime. Shipley earned a prominent role in the backfield early in his career, thus taking more carries as a true freshman. He ran for five yards per pop and 11 touchdowns. Meanwhile, Diggs and Estime played behind junior Kyren Williams in the Irish backfield. Due to some injuries, Diggs eventually earned a role in the offense, spelling Williams and then-sophomore Chris Tyree with efficient running. Estime only appeared in one game.
However, in their sophomore seasons, Estime and Diggs are showing that the Irish didn’t suffer much — if any — dropoff when they lost out on the Shipley recruiting battle. For the majority of 2022, Notre Dame’s sophomore backs have roughly equaled Shipley’s production. And on a blustery Saturday night, both Diggs and Estime thoroughly outplayed their backfield counterpart.
Shipley does lead the trio of backs in overall yardage with 802 rushing yards, but he’s also the primary back in the Clemson backfield. Diggs and Estime share carries with each other and also Tyree, limiting their total yardage production. However, they both are handling high workloads and producing at a strong rate. Estime has run for 5.7 yards per carry, just a shade under Shipley’s 5.9 mark and has nine total touchdowns. Diggs has just two total touchdowns, and he’s averaging 5.3 yards per touch.
On Saturday, if you entered with no knowledge of the three running backs, you might ha guessed that it was Shipley — and not either of the sophomores in the blue and gold — that was the former five-star. Against a stifling Irish defensive line, Shipley notched 17 touches for 80 total yards, well more than a yard under his season average. His lone score came on a one-yard plunge in the fourth quarter, with the Irish already up 28-0.
Meanwhile, Diggs toted the rock 17 times, and Estime did so 18 times. They torched the vaunted Clemson defensive line and their top-10 rushing defense for 218 combined yards and a touchdown. Diggs averaged 6.7 yards per rush, and Estime checked in at 5.8 yards per carry. Not only did the raw numbers favor the Irish duo, but they were just far more efficient than Shipley. The Clemson sophomore produced an offensively efficient touch on eight of 17 touches. He was just 4 of 13 in that stat prior to a fourth-quarter comprised mainly of garbage time.
Diggs started the day off with zero efficient runs in his first five attempts, but he finished with eight efficient carries in his last 12 touches. Estime posted a blistering 72.2% efficiency rate (13/18). The duo showed out in key moments as well. With the Irish up 7-0 just over halfway through the second quarter, the Irish embarked on a five-minute and 47-second drive that covered 78 yards. Of those 78, 67 yards came via the rushing attack, as Notre Dame dialed up 10 rush plays on an 11-play drive. Seven carries came from Estime and Diggs. And then, on a read-option near the goal line, the entire Clemson defense bit on a fake to Estime, allowing junior quarterback Drew Pyne to notch a rushing touchdown of his own.
Then, after Clemson made the game 28-7, they opted to kick it off to Notre Dame, hoping for a quick stop. Instead, the Irish drove 75 yards on 11 plays. Again, Notre Dame ran it 10 times on the drive. They converted a 3rd and 12 and a 3rd and 5 on the ground. Two Notre Dame drives at the end of each half: one to seize control of the game and one to bury the dagger. Twenty carries on 22 total offensive plays for 125 rushing yards.
It might have come 914 days after Will Shipley chose Clemson over Notre Dame, but the Irish had to be beaming as Diggs and Estime completely outclassed the former high-profile Irish target on the field.
Recruiting stars don’t always matter. Results do.
Contact Aidan Thomas at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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