As the near perfection of Saturday’s home opener against Texas continued to dance in the heads of Notre Dame fans everywhere, the other shoe seemed like it had to drop just around the corner. That shoe came in the form of Tarean Folston’s injury news.
The junior running back has officially been ruled out due to a torn right ACL for the rest of the season following his Sunday MRI. The injury occurred during Notre Dame’s second offensive possession and the 2014 leading rusher never returned to the field.
While one of the many bright spots in Saturday’s dominant performance on both sides of the ball included the performances of red-shirt junior CJ Prosise and true freshman Josh Adams, the backfield is now officially a thinned area of the Irish depth chart with the loss of Folston adding in with Greg Bryant’s season-long suspension.
Prosise (98 yards on 20 carries) and Adams (49 yards on 5 carries) thrilled the home crowd with smart, explosive and sound runs against the Longhorns, but the injury to Folston begs the question: Can they continue to be productive for an entire season?
We saw last year that Prosise could switch between a running option and a slot receiver as a speedy, elusive, yet big body. It’s unknown whether Prosise was going to be used mainly in the run game before the injury but now it’s certainty. Luckily, for the Irish, the wide receiver position is about as deep and as talented as it has been in recent memory; the spot left open in the passing game will certainly be filled by a capable next man in. That said, Prosise will now see far more consistent contact and wear as the season progresses. It’s imperative for Notre Dame’s playoff chances that he not only stays healthy, but that he stays fresh.
That second part will be largely in the hands of the young Adams. Josh Adams only got five carries Saturday, but it should be a pretty safe bet that his touches will increase as the season moves on. Head Coach Brian Kelly has often praised the freshman’s maturity and intelligence, citing his ability to pick up the playbook not only in regards to running plays but also in the pass game with routes and protection schemes. It’s this maturity that will allow Kelly to trust in the young player to give Prosise more spells on the sidelines in order to keep his legs fresh.
As Adams feels more confident and stable on the field as a runner, Kelly may also look to speed up the progression of fellow rookie Dexter Williams. Williams is the speedy, “exciting” back for the Irish, but, unlike Adams, Kelly has spoken of Williams’s need to develop schematically. He should get more looks in earlier parts of the game just to aid in the rest of the two top running backs, but likely will not be getting many meaningful playing time until he can prove he is trustworthy within the playbook and not just athletically.
All things said, Notre Dame fans saw plenty against Texas to keep them optimistic for now. It was about as dominating a performance from all eleven positions on the offense as they’ve seen, and the running backs were just as much a part of that as anyone. As long as Prosise and Adams continue to develop and perform, Irish eyes should continue smiling .