Notre Dame football: McDaniel proves he’s a workhorse

South Bend Tribune

Ball control like Notre Dame showed at the end of Saturday night's win over Purdue has been a long time coming. The concept of the extended offensive march has eluded the Irish football team for a while. Cam McDaniel reminded everyone how it's done. The seldom-used 5-foot-10, 207-pound junior running back isn't going to beat many linebackers to the edge of the defense. He won't juke and dart his way through a maze of defenders. He's the kind of power back who will turn a three-yard gain into six. He's a battering ram of sorts with a relentless desire to succeed. Four stitches in the side of his head? Patch him up and give him the ball. McDaniel got the ball on 10 of 11 plays with the game on the line Saturday night. Notre Dame led by seven with 7:22 left and the ball on the Irish 25, and McDaniel was charged to carry the load. He had had some success earlier, the highlight being a one-yard touchdown burst. McDaniel amassed 42 yards and two first downs on those 10 totes. In the process, despite Purdue using all three of its timeouts, the Irish chewed up all the remaining time to seal the win. It was the longest drive for the Notre Dame offense in 25 quarters, dating back to the end of the first half in last year's win over Boston College. "We were trying to run out the game," said Irish coach Brian Kelly. "We were in our four-minute offense. (McDaniel) was the guy that we decided was going to run the football at the end of the game. He was the hot hand at that time. The plays that we were running — 'A' gap, inside zone — downhill, with more hats than we could handle (eight defenders in 'the box'). We were trying to win a football game." "It was just the leadership of some of our upperclassmen," McDaniel said of the will to win. "We wanted to grind it out. "(Offensive tackle) Zack Martin was like, 'Hey, let's grind this thing out; let's start pounding the football.' "Sure enough, once we started doing that a little bit, we were able to hit them over the top (with an 18-yard pass to DaVaris Daniels for a first down). It was a nice feeling. "(Being a workhorse) is always tough, but it's what we live for as running backs. It's a blessing; an amazing opportunity. I love running behind our line. "I told my coaches over and over again that I'm a competitor; I'm going to compete. I'm going to do everything I can to win the game. That's just kind of who I am; it's in my DNA. I think they know that. "When the game's on the line, I want to be somebody they can depend on to give me the ball." McDaniel finished the game with 56 yards on 16 carries, and a souvenir on the side of his head. "When my helmet came off, someone took a shot to my head," McDaniel said of the first-half mishap that precipitated the needlework in his scalp. Irish quarterback Tommy Rees had no hesitation turning to McDaniel to put the victory on ice. "I was talking to the whole offense, telling them we were going to need to close the game out running the ball," Rees said. "The offensive line takes a ton of pride in that. Cam, being the tough kind of kid that he is, takes a lot of pride in running the ball hard. "We knew when we needed it, we could grind out those tough yards." "We've got five (running backs) that are capable of making plays at any time in the game," McDaniel said, trying to deflect some of the credit. "It's just a blessing to just be one of those guys. Any one of us would be able to finish it out strong. We're all competitors. We just want to win." Going forward, the way the Purdue game ended could have an impact on forging the sort of identity the Irish offense is hoping to develop. "We're going to fight 'til the end," McDaniel said. "It's something awesome to see. When you can pound a game out like that at the end of the fourth quarter; tough atmosphere; you've faced a lot of adversity throughout the game; then to come out and start making plays, then to finish it off like that, that's amazing. "That speaks to our identity as a football team. It's something we're still trying to find, but it's coming. "This is a team that can do more pounding than it's done in the first couple weeks. I feel we can run the football all the time." He proved it Saturday night.

Notre Dame running back Cam McDaniel runs in for a 1-yard touchdown against Purdue during the second half of an NCAA college football game in West Lafayette, Ind., Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)