All-American Kyren Williams was back, and so was the Notre Dame running game.
Williams has never really been gone but the rushing numbers for the Irish have been lackluster this year because of struggles with the offensive line and the uncertainty at quarterback.
Those problems dissipated in Notre Dame’s 31-16 victory over USC on Saturday.
The line play was sharp, and the Irish (6-1) used their tempo offense from the start with Jack Coan in at quarterback.
Williams rushed for 138 yards on 25 carries with two touchdowns. The Irish finished with 170 yards rushing and 387 yards total offense. Notre Dame’s rushing average crept up from 2.8 yards per carry to 3.0 after the performance. Against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame rushed for 180 yards.
Getting triple-digit yards on the ground with Coan playing most of the game is a reason for optimism that some of the structural problems with the line are being fixed. Notre Dame needed to figure out how to be good on the ground with Coan behind center. It could also be that USC wasn’t that good defensively. With a string of mediocre defenses up next, like North Carolina, Navy and Georgia Tech, it should be a good chance for the Irish to keep running the football effectively
Anyway, it’s a good start to the second half of the season for the running game.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Monday during his press conference that Williams, a 5 foot 9, 200-pound junior, reminded him of Theo Riddick. Riddick was the ultimate dual-threat running back. He finished with 120 career catches and averaged 4.8 yards per carry.
“He plays with such an energy,” Kelly said of Williams. “He has such an edge. It’s hard not to pass that on to the entire group. Boy, I don’t know, maybe Theo Riddick had a similar vibe where he played liked that. He played physical. It’s kind of rubbed off on the group. That’s the guy he kind of reminds me of.”
For Kelly, finding a comfort level with the hurry-up offense for Coan has helped the offense collectively.
There were lots of quick, timing routes where the receiver caught the ball around five or six yards beyond the line of scrimmage on the sidelines that helped Coan get into a rhythm. That opened up the running game, and then longer passes downfield.
“Tempo seems to be an ally for us within this offensive structure,” Kelly said. “It’s never been about the plays but about how are the plays going to be executed at its most consistent level. This has been about consistent execution. Sometimes you have to huddle and it takes time to see it and scan it. This offense and this group, in particular, seem to work better if there is a pace to it.
"He’s (Coan) a guy that makes quick decisions," continued Kelly. "He seems to operate based on what we had seen leading up to the USC game that his snapshots of effective and efficient play were tempo-driven. We said, ‘Alright, let’s run this one up the flag pole and see if it works. Look, we are trying to do the same thing. We want to utilize the best versions of our players. That’s what we did during the off week. It centered around quick drops and getting the ball out quicker.”
Kelly said the run game was “predicated on what the box looked like. We hadn’t done that up to this point. It was really effective. There will be more of that to come.”
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