Saturday was nearly perfect for the Notre Dame football team. From beginning to end, the Irish throttled the Texas offense and their offense scored at will in a 38-3 victory. It was a night for Notre Dame fans to celebrate.
Except that running back Tarean Folston went down with a knee injury six minutes in to the contest and will be lost for the season.
Notre Dame now becomes exceptionally thin in the backfield. C.J. Prosise, who switched over to running back from receiver in the spring, moves into the starting role. The senior from Petersburg, Va., had 126 yards rushing in 2014 but most of those were on jet sweeps from the slot position.
Saturday night was his first real action as a tailback and he played very well with 98 yards on 20 carries. The most surprising aspect of Prosise’s performance was his ability to run between the tackles, something that he was never asked to do as a receiver. Prosise saw the hole, made the proper cut, and ran through it without a whole lot of wasted movement.
It was just one game and how Prosise handles the wear and tear of an entire season is still a mystery. But it was a good start. It also was a good start for his two primary reserves.
Freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams looked capable of being able to carry the football. Adams ran 14 yards for a score the first time he touched the ball. He also scored on a 25-yard run later in the game and finished with 49 yards on five carries. Williams came in late and was able to grind out some tough yards when Notre Dame needed to burn the clock.
The good piece of news for Irish fans is that running back is a position where a freshman can come in and make an immediate impact. What Adams and Williams will have to get up to speed on quickly are the things that running backs are asked to do besides carrying the football. Most importantly, blitz pick up. Also, as a converted receiver, Prosise will be an asset catching the ball out of the backfield. But he's also the lead ball carrier so it would be nice if one of the two freshmen could develop into a receiving threat that could spell Prosise at times in passing situations.
Needless to say, Notre Dame cannot afford an injury to any of those three running backs. New scholarship recipient Adams played in mop-up time, but he is not someone the coaching staff wants playing pressure-packed minutes. Justin Brent, like Prosise a converted receiver, did not play at all.
Notre Dame does have a quarterback that can run. But head coach Brian Kelly stated prior to the game that he will limit how many times Malik Zaire carries the ball and that is unlikely to change despite the Folston injury.
It is true that Notre Dame was very effective running the ball against Texas. They got fine efforts out of Prosise, Adams and Williams. The offensive line looks like it could be one of the best units in the country, which will help in both the rushing attack and in pass protection. And if Zaire continues to throw the ball like he did against the Horns, it will take a considerable amount of pressure off the ground game.
But Folston has been a very good player that looked ready to take the step to the next level. Notre Dame can survive the blow but it will take more than just one man to fill his shoes. Everyone on the offense will have to raise his game. That is the only way the Irish can go forward without missing a beat.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a college football fanatic. Kinne has been writing about recruiting for the Irish Sports Daily for 10 years. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.