2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 53 of 163

52 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW RUNNING BACKS E ntering this May, Notre Dame's six scholarship running backs — including former walk-on and now graduate stu- dent Mick Assaf — tied 2013 for the most on the roster since head coach Brian Kelly's program debut in 2010. Then on May 27, the Fighting Irish added Stanford graduate transfer Trevor Speights, raising the scholarship total to seven, the most at the position since 2007. (It is possi- ble Assaf will return to walk-on status in the fall to help the Irish get down to the NCAA- mandated 85-scholarship limit, but nothing had been announced as of early June.) Bringing Speights aboard somewhat sym- bolized the uncertainty surrounding the posi- tion. Quantity is not a problem, but finding a lead, alpha figure who can be relied on week after week is unsettled. Speights did not play for the Cardinal in 2019 nor as a freshman in 2016, the year he was recruited there by current Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor. In the other two seasons, he totaled a mod- est 363 yards, 3.8 yards per carry and one touchdown. Until landing top-100 prospect Chris Tyree in the 2020 harvest, Notre Dame struggled from 2016-19 at landing marquee figures at the position, resulting in former wide receiver Jafar Armstrong and former quarterback Avery Davis (now at slot re- ceiver) shifting to the backfield just to help build numbers. Armstrong has had his moments while rushing for 505 yards the past two years, but the transition has been an adjustment and his career has been hampered by several injury setbacks. The 2020 Notre Dame running back roster has 247 career rushing attempts that average only 3.97 yards, not much higher than Spei- ghts' 3.8 average. As a comparison, the top two or three Fighting Irish backs during the 12-0 regular seasons together posted clips of 5.69 (2012) and 5.65 (2018) per carry. The 10-3 team in 2015 was at 6.84 yards per tote, and the 10-3 edition in 2017 was 6.96. During the final six regular-season games in 2019, the Notre Dame running backs av- eraged 75.5 rushing yards per game collec- tively: 453 yards on 134 carries for merely 3.38 yards per attempt. In that stretch, quarterback Ian Book paced the team in rushing most of the time and would finish the year second overall (546 yards), while sophomore wide receiver Braden Lenzy finished third (200 yards) with his jet sweeps. Entering 2020: • Armstrong remains the lead figure, but his 46 carries last season averaged just 2.7 yards. • Junior power back Jahmir Smith tallied Notre Dame's first 2019 touchdown and finished with 180 rushing yards. However, over the final four games his seven carries netted zero yards, and he did not play in the Camping World Bowl. • Junior C'Bo Flemister finished with five rushing touchdowns, the second most to the graduated Tony Jones Jr.'s six, and displayed blitz-pick up attributes, but his 48 carries netted only 162 yards, a 3.4 clip. • Sophomore Kyren Williams was utilized in the first four games of 2019 before getting redshirted. High hopes are present for Tyree, but how much will he be able to help right away at his listed 179 pounds? A return to national title contention can't afford to have the running game grounded. ✦ ALL HANDS AND LEGS ON DECK Notre Dame's ground attack needs to be more than run of the mill Injuries have slowed senior Jafar Armstrong the past two years, but his 505 career rushing yards are still the most among returning Irish players. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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