2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 54 of 163

BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW ✦ 53 RUNNING BACKS NOTABLE DATA Notre Dame averaged at least 170 rushing yards per game for the third straight year, a first since 1999-2001. The average has decreased each year, though, from 269.5 in 2017 to 182.6 in 2018 to 179.0 last season. Each year, Notre Dame has had a different primary running back. Josh Adams' 2017 season was superb with 1,430 yards, but even without someone of his caliber, the Irish have found ways to produce on the ground at a respectable level. Only one of Notre Dame's top three rushers in 2019 was a running back. Jones' 857 yards led the team, but quarterback Ian Book (546 yards) and wide receiver Braden Lenzy (200) were the next two. It marked the first time under Brian Kelly where at least two running backs didn't crack Notre Dame's top three in rushing. 2019 VS. 2020: STOCK UP OR DOWN? Tony Jones Jr.'s departure leaves little experience in Notre Dame's backfield and the general feeling that the stock is down a bit. Only senior Jafar Armstrong has been a meaningful multi-year presence. The good news is Notre Dame has found capable lead backs out of these unclear situations before, and usually pretty quickly. The last two seasons were no different, with upperclassmen Jones (2019) and Dexter Williams (2018) sliding into lead back roles with aplomb. Armstrong, with 505 career yards, is Notre Dame's most experienced running back but has fewer yards through his first three years on campus than Jones or Williams did. Part of that can be attributed to injury problems in 2018 and 2019. But it feels like a stretch to Sharpie him in for 12 to 15 carries per game. Juniors Jahmir Smith and C'Bo Flemister were third and fourth options who could get a chance at lead back duties. Sophomore Kyren Williams is an in- triguing option as an all- purpose figure. Trevor Speights came in as a graduate transfer from Stanford to provide some experience, but he won't be assured of a major role. X-FACTOR On paper, Arm- strong is the logi- cal candidate for Notre Dame's next late-career breakout. But when given more opportunities as a runner, he hasn't produced particularly well. He has four career games with at least 10 car- ries. The combined totals from them: 58 carries for 184 yards (3.2 yards per carry). He averaged 2.7 yards on his 46 rushes in 2019. Armstrong doesn't have great breakaway speed, but he is a decisive cutter who offers a strong receiving skill set. His best games have come when his touches have been a mix of rushes and receptions. One wonders if that's how to best use him in 2020. FRESHMAN OUTLOOK Top-100 recruit Chris Tyree is Notre Dame's highest-upside running back, but it would be premature to anoint him as the favorite before he even practices in a college setting. If he is ready, though, he could be the difference between a steady backfield and an explosive one. Since 2008, freshman running backs seldom had notable roles for Notre Dame, with only Tarean Folston in 2013 (470 yards) and Josh Adams in 2015 (freshman school-record 835 yards) rushing for more than 160 yards. Tyree's elite speed and change-of-pace ability do not make him an ordinary freshman, but he is not particularly big. If he ascends into the role, Notre Dame should feel good about its rushing attack. C'Bo Flemister's five rushing touchdowns as a sophomore last season were second only to the graduated Tony Jones Jr.'s six. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS DID YOU KNOW? The Notre Dame running backs' 48-game streak of not losing a fumble ended when Virginia Tech recovered a Jafar Armstrong loose ball Nov. 2. It was, though, the lone ball dislodged from an Irish running back all year. The streak was bound to end at some point due to the haphazard nature of fumble recoveries. Notre Dame can't be expected to fall on every running back fumble like it did in 2018, when it saved all four. More important is that lack of fumbles at all. Notre Dame fumbled 10 times as a team in 2019, which was tied for the 10th-fewest in the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Irish haven't fumbled more than 12 times in each of the last three years. SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (7) Listed after the class year is the years of eligi- bility remaining. 8 Jafar Armstrong (6-1, 220), Sr./2 20 C'Bo Flemister (5-11, 195), Jr./3 34 Jahmir Smith (5-11, 207), Jr./3 23 Kyren Williams (5-9, 204), So./4 32 Mick Assaf (5-11, 212), 5th-Sr./1 — Trevor Speights (5-11, 203), Sr./2 — Chris Tyree (5-9½, 179), Fr./4

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