Autry Denson‘s running back room has to feel lonely sometimes. With just Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant as scholarship backs, C.J. Prosise‘s cross-training this spring at least brought another voice into the room.
And while a crew of walk-on runners have filled some chairs—and will likely fill the stat sheet in the upcoming Blue-Gold game—the room should never feel empty. Because the shadow of one of college football’s premier backs should be felt on a daily basis.
Boise State’s Jay Ajayi ran for 1,823 yards in 2014. He had 347 carries, a shade under 25 a game. He caught 50 passes for 535 yards. He scored 32 total touchdowns.
Those aren’t numbers. Those are monster numbers.
As a runner, Ajayi wasn’t just more productive than Notre Dame’s entire 2014 backfield, he was essentially the Irish’s entire 2012 ground game, too—but double the rushing touchdowns.
As a receiver, Ajayi would’ve finished behind only Will Fuller in catches. He put up essentially Corey Robinson’s receiving numbers, and that’s after carrying the Broncos offense on his back as a runner.
Put simply, opportunities await.
So while the collective focus this spring is on the quarterback battle between Everett Golson and Malik Zaire, Denson’s running backs should feel like the big winners of the coaching shakeup.
Notre Dame’s ground game has been better-than-average just once in Brian Kelly’s five seasons in South Bend. So give Kelly credit for bringing in Sanford to do more than just coach quarterbacks and (potentially) call plays. He brought him in to help renovate a running game that’s been operating at well below efficiency.
Boise State ran the football 57 percent of the time in 2014. That number should be in big, bold font as a reminder to the running backs that if they’re dominant, they’ll be getting the football.
So while the room might feel empty this spring, the opportunities are everywhere. Especially after seeing the Irish offense succeed when they committed to a ground game in their victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl.