For Cam McDaniel, it's one last chance at Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – Not a lot left on the table for Cam McDaniel.

His Notre Dame football career is down to about 15 practices and a Music City Bowl game against LSU.

Yet, a sense of personal accountability and responsibility keeps the notion of anything other than total commitment and a desire to excel from not even being a factor as the sun sets.

In other words, the 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior running back and co-captain has vowed to be all-in until the bitter end.

And, over the last six weeks, it certainly has been bitter.

“I’ve never lost four games in a row before,” said McDaniel. “I don’t have the systematic knowledge of how to recover from losing five out of your last six games.

“We have to look at it as a fresh start. That’s what it is. For me, it’s my last opportunity. It’s everybody’s last opportunity this season.

“I’m sick of losing. The last six weeks have been (bad). It’s about time we got back on track. What better time than now? We’ve gotta get this thing right.”

McDaniel was the leading rusher last season. He carried the ball 152 times for 705 yards and three touchdowns in an offense that generated an average of 151 rushing yards a game.

Ironically, the team numbers are the same this season, but McDaniel’s production has slipped significantly. He has 274 yards and four TDs on 76 carries. He has paced the Irish ground game twice, against Michigan (8 carries, 25 yards) and Stanford (15, 41).

Hardly eye-poppers.

His only fumble was a costly one. It came in the fourth quarter of the Northwestern game, and directly led to the Wildcats’ game-tying field goal.

Sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant have both passed McDaniel in terms of production and playing time. Though, with every job on the team up for grabs for the bowl game, the senior has one more opportunity to make an impact.

Irish coach Brian Kelly is looking for competitors. His challenge is to bring out the fight in his team.

“We’ll see, when we get to work on Friday,” McDaniel said of his role in the recovery. “There will be some changes that will be made, in terms of the ways we’re doing things.

“My role, I’m coming to the end of my time… For me, this is an opportunity to play a really good football team and help this team prepare the way it should prepare. If I get my chance on the field, I would love to compete and fight for this team.”

“I really haven't had much problem with this group in terms of their preparation and the way that they work,” Kelly said. “They put in the time. We're just a sloppy team on Saturday.

“So we have to find out: What's that component? Why is that occurring? What are those things that are happening? We've got to clean up what Saturday is about. Some of that is communication, trust. Some of that is confidence in your ability to go out and do your job. This will allow us to really reinforce some of those things over the next three weeks.”

If Saturday is sloppy, maybe playing on a Tuesday (Dec. 30) will help.

One area of focus will be the way the Notre Dame offense starts a game.

Tone-setters have been tough to come by this season. In seven of their 12 games, the Irish have come up empty on their first offensive possession. Two fumbles and five punts ended early drives.

Notre Dame has had three touchdowns and two field goals on their first attempts.

Has the offense been running too fast to be really efficient?

“It’s tough for me to say (if the offense was being run too fast), especially when you’re not necessarily out on the field during opening drives. It’s pretty tough,” McDaniel said. “We have to gain some consistency to start opening drives up to where it allows us to gain some momentum. That’s where we’ve struggled. We either get stopped three-and-out, or we move the ball down but don’t finish the drive.

“We’re not finishing drives in the red zone.”

The last four games have been a mish-mash of mistakes that have fueled a downward spiral of frustration.

“I felt like I’ve seen it all this season,” McDaniel said. “We have everything we need. We have the scheme. We have the talent. It’s just about execution.

“A lot of guys (in the program) felt that we could have been one of those teams in the (four-team College Football Playoff) at the beginning of the year. I felt we were that talented.

“To be where we are now is disappointing. Shoot, we get to play LSU. That’s a huge opportunity for us.”

McDaniel’s last time to make it right.

Running back Cam McDaniel is looking to end his senior season on a positive note. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)