Today’s installment of our wildly popular series, Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy, features that most Notre Dame-y of position groups, the running backs. Fittingly, perhaps the greatest Notre Dame running back of them all, Jerome Bettis, was enshrined on Saturday in the NFL Hall of Fame. Do the Irish of 2015 have another Bus in the depot?
Frustratingly, no. Tarean Folston and C.J. Prosise, a converted wide-receiver, have the potential to be as dynamic a backfield duo as any before them, but potential is a funny thing. The loss of Greg Bryant for the season to academic ineligibility makes the loss of Cam McDaniel to graduation and a supporting role in Zoolander 2 especially hard felt. With freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, maybe even throw upper-classman Amir Carlisle in there, Brian Kelly has plenty of options behind Folson and Prosise, but no real proven commodities who’ve shown they can carry the load over a season.
Thankfully for the Irish D, they’re not exactly facing a murderers row of running backs this season, either. There are some good backs out there, for sure, but this is one time I didn’t look at the schedule and the Top 10 or 25 lists and just collapse my face into my hands. This season, there’s one who leads them all, one opposing team running back who’s better than everyone else. You’ll read about him in a minute.
The Irish: But first, we need to talk about Tarean Folston. The guy has all the potential in the world, without question. He has demonstrated an ability to run over people, and is at his proven best in space, where I’m pretty sure he’s broken some guys’ hips with his spins and jukes. But he’s been frustrating, too, or maybe frustrated by, or in, a system that has allowed QB1 run the ball as much.
On the biggest stages, though, Coach Kelly fed Folston. Against both LSU and FSU, Folston was handed the ball twenty-one times, both career highs. In both games, the 5’9″ junior showed the ability to move the ball against conference-style defenses capable of scheming against FBS and FCS opponents.
It’s against the “lesser” competition that Folston has been, at times, missing in action. If he is able to put together a complete season, though, the Irish will be smiling come selection season.
The Enemy: Pitt’s James Conner is the best running back the Irish are going to face this season. At 6’2″, 240, the junior out of Erie, Pennsylvania, is a monster who is probably among the top three or four players in the country at his position. His preseason awards include All-ACC and a nomination to the Walter Camp watch list. He finished 2014 with 1765 yards on 298 carriers. Compare that to Folston’s 889 on 175 and you see how heavily Conner was used, but also that he averaged almost one more yard per carry than did Folston. Conner also ran for twenty-six touchdowns and led his conference in pretty much every metric by which one would rank running backs.
I like this kid on the field, too, not that I follow Pitt football much. He runs the way you’d want a running back to run. He follows his blocks real well and only cuts when the play calls for it. Straight ahead seems to be his first and second option and when he gets into that second or third level, straight ahead and over the defender seems to be his preference. He is going to really test our D-line.
Hating Hurricanes Since 1990.
Bayou Irish is a Jersey boy and Double Domer who fell under New Orleans' spell in 1995. He's been through Katrina and fourteen years in the Coast Guard, so we cut him some slack, mostly in the form of HLS-subsidized sazeracs. But, when he's not face down on the bar and communing with the ghosts of Faulkner and Capote at the Carousel Bar in the Hotel Monteleone, he's our man in SEC-land, doing his best to convince everyone around him that Graduation Success Rate is a better indicator of success than the number of MNC's won in the last five years.
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