Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 18, 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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4 SEPT. 18, 2021 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED S uggesting that Notre Dame junior Kyren Williams be- longs in the same class with great Irish tailbacks Autry Denson, Allen Pinkett, Darius Walker and all of the other Notre Dame legends might seem pre- mature, because it may be. But given the versatility and production Williams has pro- vided into his second season as a starting tailback, his work as an all-purpose player is already worthy of celebration and some conversation among the elites. With 1,438 total yards last season during his coming-out party — 1,125 rushing and 313 receiving with 14 touchdowns — Williams enjoyed one of the best sophomore seasons ever by an Irish running back. In fact, only two other sec- ond-year Notre Dame players compare. A s a so p h o m o re i n 19 8 3, Pinkett rushed for 1,394 yards and tal- lied another 288 receiving yards with 18 touchdowns. A four-year starter, Pinkett (1982-85) played in 43 career games and still leads all Irish tailbacks with a 114.1-yard per- game average in combined rushing and receiving yards. Pinkett averaged 96.1 rushing and 18.0 receiving yards during his legendary career. Walker (2004-06) rushed for 1,196 yards, pulled in another 351 receiv- ing yards and scored 11 touchdowns as sophomore in 2005. Walker — who rarely receives the career appreciation he deserves — combined for 112.9 rush- ing and receiving yards per game during his career, which is second all time be- hind only Pinkett. Walker enjoyed consecutive 1,000- yard rushing seasons in 2005 and 2006 before heading to the NFL Draft as a junior after 36 career games. Yet, even with senior eligibility left on the table, Walker still ranks fourth all time among Irish tailbacks with 3,249 rush- ing yards, fifth all time at the position with 816 re- ceiving yards, second with 109 receptions and fourth with 4,065 combined rush- ing and receiving yards. He averaged 90.2 rushing and 22.7 receiving yards in 36 career games and remains one of the most underrated Irish players in program history. Along with Pinkett and Walker, Denson (105.6 yards per game from 1994-98) is the only other Irish running back to ever average more than 100 yards a game in combined rush- ing and receiving yardage. Denson — Notre Dame's all- time leading rusher with 4,318 yards — averaged 96.0 rushing yards and 9.6 receiving yards (105.6 total) in his 45 career games. Vagas Ferguson (98.4 yards per game from 1976-79) and Josh Adams (93.0 yards per game from 2015-17) are the only other Irish tailbacks to even approach the century mark in combo yardage. Now, here comes Williams. A 2021 preseason All-Amer- ican, a marginal Heisman Tro- phy candidate, and potentially a first-round NFL Draft pick in 2022 or 2023, Williams finds himself in position to join this unique "century club." Even including his low production as a freshman and a subpar outing against Florida State, he ranks sixth all time at Notre Dame with a career 93.6-yard av- erage in combined yardage. Against Duke in the 2020 season opener, Williams tallied 112 rushing yards and 93 receiving yards to become the first Irish player to record at least 90 rushing and 90 receiving yards in the same game since Pinkett did it in 1983. Williams — despite a smaller sample size to this point compared to his con- temporaries — is performing as one of best dual-purpose Irish tailbacks ever. Numbers and projections are just that, numbers and projections. They often lack context and are difficult to translate era to era. But if Williams can match his rush- ing and receiving production from 2020 this year, he'll leave Notre Dame at or near the top of the list of best dual-pur- pose running backs ever to play here. ✦ Based on his career rushing and receiving totals through Sept. 4, Williams ranks fifth among the top dual-threat tailbacks in Irish history with a combined average of 93.6 yards per game. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS Tailback Kyren Williams Is Approaching Rare Air UPON FURTHER REVIEW TODD D. BURLAGE Todd D. Burlage has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2005. He can be reached at KEEPING GOOD COMPANY Measured by combined rushing and receiving production, can Irish junior Kyren Williams someday be considered the best dual- purpose Irish running back of all time? Following is the career list of the top rushing-receiving combo tailbacks at Notre Dame, ranked by average yards per game. 1. Allen Pinkett (1982-85) 114.1 ypg; 43 games; 4,905 yards (4,131 rush, 774 receiving) 2. Darius Walker (2004-06) 112.9 ypg; 36 games; 4,065 yards (3,249 rush, 816 receiving) 3. Autry Denson (1995-98) 105.6 ypg; 45 games; 4,750 yards (4,318 rush, 432 receiving) 4. Vagas Ferguson (1976-79) 98.4 ypg; 39 games; 3,838 yards (3,472 rush/366 receiving) 5. Kyren Williams (2019-present) 93.6 ypg; 17 games; 1,592 yards (1,193 rush, 399 receiving)

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