NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Rarely do touchbacks make anything in football more dramatic, but if Notre Dame’s 52-17 victory over Miami (OH) on Saturday had opened with one, then Irish junior running back Josh Adams’ 73-yard run on the evening’s second play would have been even more notable.
Instead, the opening score left Adams one yard short of moving into a tie for ninth place of Notre Dame’s career rushing leaders. The two additional yards a touchback would have granted that touchdown would have moved Adams past George Gipp.
Yes, that George Gipp.
Adams gained those yards, and five more, on the second Irish drive. His 159 yards by the end of the night moved him up to eighth on that career rushing list with 2,426 yards. If an aggravated ankle had not cut short Adams’ chances in the first quarter, he would have almost certainly passed Cierre Wood (2009-12) for seventh place, needing only 21 more yards for that mark. Frankly, he was likely to gain many more than 21 additional yards.
“He would have had 350 if he had played the second half,” RedHawks coach and former Notre Dame assistant Chuck Martin said afterward. “He’s really good. He’s been really good here.
“He tends to break off big runs if you give him [space]. He’s big and strong, but he runs through those — you can’t really make him miss — he runs through arm tackles. … He could have set some records today.”
If Adams can stay healthy, the days for those records will come. (More on those pursuits in a few paragraphs.) This was the second week in a row his night was ended prematurely by an ankle concern, though Adams said this week was not the same ankle as last week. Irish coach Brian Kelly also said Adams could have returned to the game, but Notre Dame instead opted to exercise caution considering the sizable lead it already had at the time. When Adams injured his ankle, the Irish led 21-7 and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush connected with sophomore receiver Chase Claypool for another touchdown a play later.
Despite those nagging injuries, Adams has rushed with nearly unparalleled efficiency this season. Including this weekend, he has taken 73 carries for 658 yards, a 9.0 yards per rush average. When compared to some of the nation’s most prolific and/or best running backs, Adams certainly holds his own. He now has the fourth-most rushing yardage this season in the country, behind Stanford’s Bryce Love, San Diego State’s Rashaad Penny and North Texas’ Jeffery Wilson.
Including Saturday, Love has rushed for 1,088 yards on 98 carries, an 11.1 yards per rush average. Penny has rushed for 823 yards on 116 carries, a 7.1 yards per rush average. Wilson comes in just ahead of Adams with 666 yards on 93 carries, a 7.2 yards per rush average.
Penn State’s Saquon Barkley is the widespread Heisman Trophy favorite at this point. Including Saturday, he has rushed for 564 yards on 86 carries, a 6.6 yards per rush average.
The point here is, Adams has played three Power Five programs and two Group of Five conference title contenders. (Well, at least Temple was supposed to be one.) His stats nonetheless stand up against anyone else’s in the country. Kelly outright compared Adams to Barkley.
“I used Barkley’s name, that guy is a jump-cut special player at full speed,” Kelly said. “Josh is going to run over you and break it.
“[Offensive coordinator Chip Long] and the play calling, the way we’ve constructed this offense, it’s a great fit.”
Projecting Adams’ national standing is an entirely subjective exercise. Projecting his landing spot in the Notre Dame record books is not. That is simply statistics and math.
Adams has averaged 131.6 yards per game this season, even with troubled ankles. If he were to maintain that rate over the seven remaining regular season games plus a presumed bowl game, he would finish 2017 as the No. 3 career rusher in Irish history, passing Vagas Ferguson (1976-79) by five yards.
Such a pace would equate to 1,711 yards this season, shattering Ferguson’s single-season record of 1,437 set in 1979.
Those do not seem to be unrealistic imaginings.
Projecting even further, if Adams were to maintain health and return for a senior season, presuming one bowl game in both 2017 and 2018, he would need to average 90.1 yards per game to surpass his position coach and school career leader Autry Denson’s mark of 4,318 yards, set between 1995 and 1998.
To give some idea of how quickly those numbers can change, per a conversation with Notre Dame reporter Mike Monaco during Saturday’s pregame, Adams needed to average 93 yards per game to break Denson’s record before the 159 yards gained against Miami. (This scribe pauses to check Monaco’s math. It checks out to the tune of 93.3 yards per game.)
Whether or not he sets those marks, Adams’ influence extends beyond these outrageous statistics.
“He’s been doing this for two-and-a-half years now,” Wimbush said. “To have a seasoned vet, even though he’s only a junior, it makes things a lot easier. Coach Kelly is right in saying that [Adams is comparable to the Barkleys of the nation]. Josh is just going to have some more things to prove the rest of the season.”
More running back health
Kelly said, flat out, Adams could have returned Saturday. The fact that he was available for media interviews following the game indicates he was rather healthy, all things considered.
Sophomore running back Tony Jones took a hit to the helmet in the second quarter and did not return, but Kelly said Jones was not ruled out of the game. Instead, thanks to the scoreboard cushion, the Irish staff simply opted for caution. With junior Dexter Williams ruled out of the game in a Saturday decision due to a sprained ankle, Notre Dame turned to sophomore Deon McIntosh.
McIntosh finished with 47 yards on 12 carries, leading the Irish in rushing attempts for the second week in a row.
Kelly said Williams should be 100 percent by the time Notre Dame heads to North Carolina.