The Irish had a very strong ground game in 2015, can they repeat that same success this season?
For the first time in the Brian Kelly era the Irish had a potent rushing attack in 2015. Many Irish fans and most experts probably didn’t see it coming because of the loss of Greg Bryant and the early season injury to Tarean Folston. But Kelly remained committed to the run and the Irish cracked the 200 yards per game plateau for first time since he arrived in 2010. The run game did regress late in the season, but most of that was due to the injuries to C.J. Prosise and the defenses they played. In the college game especially, is it imperative to have a good ground attack. 7 out of the 8 last national champions all averaged over 200 yards per game. The only team not to was last year’s Alabama team and they ran for 199 yards per game.
The Irish are losing their leading rusher in Prosise, but thanks to the emergence of Josh Adams and the return of Folston, Notre Dame should still have a very good ground game next season. Adams set a Notre Dame freshman record for rushing yards with 835 and he also chipped in with 6 touchdowns. When Prosise went down late last season Adams took over the role as the feature back and performed well. In games against Wake Forest and Stanford he ran for 141 and 168 yards respectively. He possesses the same explosiveness that Prosise did, so in terms of big plays the Irish shouldn’t take a step back with Adams role expanding. If he can improve his pass catching and blocking skills the Irish are going to have themselves a complete back, much similar to Prosise.
Folston was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014 and all signs pointed to him being ND’s feature back in 2015 before his season ending injury in the first game against Texas. He along with Adams should form a solid 1-2 punch. Folston doesn’t have the same speed or explosiveness as Adams, so he will provide a nice change of pace for the Irish. It’s hard to predict how well players will come back from something as serious as a knee injury, but reports on Folston from spring camp have been positive.
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Another guy who could throw his hat into the pool for playing time is sophomore-to-be Dexter Williams. Williams was used sparingly last season, mostly in garbage time when the Irish were up big. He’s pretty similar to Folston in terms of size and speed. 247Sports reports that Williams has been making big strides during spring practice. If he keeps improving he could make things pretty interesting in the Irish backfield.
Even with the losses of Prosise and Ronnie Stanley, Nick Martin and Steve Elmer on the offensive like, I wouldn’t expect any kind of drop off in rushing next season. The Irish have three very capable backs in Adams, Folston and Williams. Also if there is one positional unit ND seems to “reload” at, it is definitely the offensive line. Whoever is the quarterback (I think it should be Kizer) should be a big contributor to the Irish ground attack.
Personally, I am very excited to see what kind of improvement Adams brings in 2016. I think his combination of size and speed could make him one of the best backs in the nation. Overall, if Kelly remains committed to running the ball the Irish again should have a top 25 rushing attack next season.