When Tarean Folston went down on his third carry of the season, few expected a position with zero career running back carries to become one of the most dominant offensive weapons in Notre Dame history.
But C.J. Prosise was the next man in. And after making the transition to the backfield during spring practice, Prosise became Notre Dame’s feature back, with Folston out, Greg Bryant transferred and only freshman Josh Adams and Dexter Williams left.
During his first seven games at the position, Prosise has used his game-breaking speed and surprising power to make himself one of the nation’s top weapons. And in doing so, he’s on a crash-course for Notre Dame’s record books.
Let’s take a look at the backfield.
Undisputed MVP: C.J. Prosise
Prosise is the only running back in college football with over 900 yards rushing and 200 yards receiving. And if it weren’t for the Irish calling off the dogs early in a few games to get Prosise some rest he’d be at 1,000 yards as he enjoys fall break and the bye week.
There’s still room to grow in Prosise’s game—especially in short yardage and inside running situations. But watching the 220-pounder routinely bust through tackles in the open field and continue to score long-range touchdowns, it’s amazing that Prosise is actually outplaying the lofty expectations Brian Kelly set for him when most thought he was just publicly challenging Folston and Bryant during spring practice.
Pleasant Surprise: Josh Adams
That Adams, a three-star prospect coming off a major high school knee injury, is actually leading Notre Dame in yards per carry is amazing. That he’s shown the ability to process and understand the Irish offense, and earn an opportunity in pass blocking situations, is an even larger testament to his football IQ.
Granted, there’s no other veteran option to be on the field. But Adams possesses the long speed that makes Prosise dangerous and runs hard and downhill. He’s also another datapoint on the “recruiting stars don’t matter as long as Notre Dame’s staff IDs you early” train, a bandwagon I’d like to see more Irish fans jump on.
Room for Improvement: Short-Yardage Victories
Yes, DeShone Kizer is a 235-pounder. But he shouldn’t be Notre Dame’s short-yardage running option, and currently he’s the guy with the ball in his hands on 3rd and 4th-and-short. (Not to mention two-point plays.) That’s less of an indictment on Notre Dame’s backfield and more a strategic preference to get additional blocking numbers, but it’s still an area of concern at a position that’s really over-performing.
For as explosive as Prosise has been, he’s done most of his best work running on the perimeter. Still young in his career as a runner, there’s certainly no reason why his vision in the trenches won’t improve. (We saw him pull off a great run to get to the end zone against USC, knifing through a hole and then spinning back for the touchdown.) He also iced the Navy game by allowing his blocks to set up on a slow-developing counter.
But with a difficult schedule of defenses coming up, earning the tough yards will be crucial.