Born to run?
Maybe? But Notre Dame definitely appears to be committed to it. And three games into its 2020 season the Irish are pretty good at it as well under first-year offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.
ND (3-0, 2-0 ACC) woke up Sunday as the nation’s No. 5 rushing team among the 76 college football teams that have played at least one game so far in the pandemic-staggered season. Air Force, Army, Virginia Tech and Georgia Southern are the top four.
That running aspect was the most impressive in Notre Dame’s otherwise bumpy 42-26 victory over a rebuilding Florida State team, Saturday night at Notre Dame Stadium and helped boost the Irish one spot Sunday to No. 4 in both the Amway coaches and Associated Press polls.
That’s its highest poll position for the Irish since taking a consensus No. 3 ranking into its 2018 College Football Playoff semifinal with Clemson.
Notre Dame’s 270.7 yards-per game average is comparable to the “33 Trucking” group’s (269.3) that finished seventh nationally among 129 FBS teams. The yards per carry are almost identical as well. The 2020 Irish are averaging 6.28, good for fourth nationally, while the 2017 Irish averaged 6.25, which was third.
Both redshirt freshman Kyren Williams (185 yards on 19 carries and 2 TDs) and true freshman Chris Tyree (103 on 11 carries, 1 TD) eclipsed the 100-yard rushing mark Saturday night. Williams is the nation’s No. 7 rusher at 119.7 yards a game and eight in yards per carry at 7.48.
“Growing up I always played defense, so my first love was defense,” Williams said after the game. “I mean I don’t ever shy away from contact. I embrace contact.
“So when I’m running the ball and I have to run somebody over, then I’ll do that. But if I have to make them miss, I’ll do that as well.”
Notre Dame’s next opponent, Louisville (1-3, 0-3), at a modest 43rd nationally in rushing defense, represents the biggest challenge in that department for the Irish to date. Pitt (3-2, 2-2), will present the first real test, on the road the following week.
The Panthers are No. 2 nationally in rush defense behind only Georgia.
The Irish carry the nation’s second-longest home win streak (tied with idle Ohio State) into Saturday’s game with Louisville and a nine-game overall win streak dating back to last season, tied with Air Force for the nation’s longest active run of victories.
Notre Dame hopes to sharpen the other facets of its game in the coming week after a 21-day layoff between games and having, at its peak, 39 players unavailable to practice during that stretch due to either being in isolation for a positive COVID-19 test or in quarantine because of contact tracing.
While just two regulars — defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and linebacker Jack Kiser — were ruled unavailable Saturday night against the Seminoles, many others were just coming back and hadn’t practiced or conditioned extensively.
That was particularly evident on defense at times against a strong performance from FSU quarterback Jordan Travis.
“It's hard to duplicate the speed of the game,” ND head coach Brian Kelly said. “I thought our conditioning element was not where it needs to be. We were playing a tempo team. The legs get a little bit tired. We had a long week of practice.
“Look, we had to push them hard this week. It wasn't ideal in terms of optimal game readiness, if you will. We were a little tired, if you will. But we had to do it to get them game ready. You could see there was a little bit of fatigue defensively. We were falling off some tackles.
“But from an offensive line standpoint, they excel under those circumstances. The work for them I think was positive in that sense. Again, that group is a unique group. There's not a group that I've coached that those five guys work so well together.”