Notre Dame balances run production vs. promise
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Notre Dame’s running game has come down to a balance of production vs. promise.
Senior captain Cam McDaniel represents production, while sophomores Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston represent potential and promise. Coach Brian Kelly is hoping the sixth-ranked Irish can turn that promise more into production as the season wears on, starting against North Carolina (2-3) on Saturday.
“We’re doing OK. We’re going to get better. We’re committed to being better to running the football,” Kelly said Tuesday.
The Irish depended heavily on McDaniel in a 17-14 win against Stanford because he’s a steady back who consistently hits the correct hole and takes advantage of the blocks the line sets up. The 5-10, 205-pound sure-handed back leads the team in carries, yet is last in yards per carry at 3.6.
“We know what we’re going to get from Cam,” Kelly said. “Cam has been a pretty steady performer, and I have a tendency to kind of err toward going with the senior captain in these kinds of games.”
After saying Sunday that Folston and Bryant “have outstanding potential and promise,” Kelly clarified Tuesday that he’d put Folston more on the production side of the equation, saying he didn’t play as much against Stanford because of a thigh bruise.
“We’re really comfortable with Folston and his development. It’s Greg’s that we need to continue move forward,” Kelly said. “Greg just needs more time to develop.”
The criticism the 5-10, 205-pound Bryant, who leads the team in rushing at 4.8 yards a carry, is that he tries too hard to be elusive. He showed that in a second quarter run against Stanford when the line cleared a wide path for him and the only player Bryant had to beat was safety Jordan Richards. Bryant faked right, then left, then right again before he lunged into the arms of Richards.
“In certain instances, he’s a physical kid, run the safety over,” Kelly said. “Stick your foot in the ground and go north-south. In high school, he could make that guy miss.”
Another factor in Notre Dame’s inconsistent running attack has been a shuffle in the line after three games in an attempt to become more physical inside. The line struggled at times against Syracuse two weeks ago, but Kelly said he saw progress against Stanford.
“We’re not there yet. We’re going to continue to work, continue to work with the same five guys and continue to work on building some continuity there,” he said.
North Carolina appears to be a good opponent to begin improving the run game against. They rank 92nd in the nation against the run, which is the worst run defense the Irish have faced this season.
After facing five teams in the top 58 against the run in the first five games, the Irish face six opponents in the final seven games that are rated 54th or worst in the nation against the run. The worst two are Arizona, which is 103rd in the nation at, and Navy, which is rated No. 101.
Kelly pointed out that while the Irish are rated 78th in the nation in rushing at 152. 8 yards a game, they are rated higher than Stanford (86th) and Florida State (97th). He also believes the Irish can improve.
“We think we can be better at it. We want to be better at running the football. I think that’s the most important thing at this point,” he said.
NOTES: Kelly said he hasn’t heard any updates on the status five players being withheld from practices and games while an honesty committee decides whether they are guilty of academic dishonesty. Kelly said all he knows is that the decisions are imminent. He said if any of the players are allowed to return they would have limited roles against North Carolina.