Notre Dame football: It was fun for Irish to see George run

Bob Wieneke


As the final seconds dripped away Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, Irish running back George Atkinson sat on a bench on a somber ND sideline.

A couple of times, the junior appeared to look toward the scoreboard, the one that read "Oklahoma 35, Notre Dame 21," and one that drowned out Atkinson's loud 148-yard rushing total.

A big game individually yes, but ...

"Yeah but it wasn't good enough to win the game," Atkinson said. "It doesn't matter if I got one carry for 1 yard, as long as we win it doesn't matter."

On the day when the Irish running game finally hit a stride -- ND ran for a season-high 220 yards after failing to crack the 100-yard mark the previous three weeks -- turnovers and a subpar passing game undercut Atkinson's stellar showing.

The performance was by far the best of the career for the 6-foot-1, 220-pound Atkinson, topping the 123-yard game he had nearly a year ago against Miami. It also came following rushing performances of 34, 37, 27 and 23 yards in this season's first four games.

"Coach has been harping on me to run more physical," Atkinson said, "and sadly it had to take me until now to do it, but now I plan on just continuing and doing that."

Kelly, whose 22nd-ranked team dropped to 3-2, was blunt in recounting the coaching staff's message to Atkinson.

"We didn't think George ran physical enough. We told him that," Kelly said. "We told him if he wanted to be the starter that he can't get tackled by his ankles. He can't be the guy that goes down. He's 220 pounds and I thought he ran the ball today like I expect George Atkinson to run the ball. He's got to do that every week.

"He shouldn't be tackled by his ankles, and he showed that today, and I hope he brings that game with him each and every week because it was sure fun to watch George Atkinson run today. Wasn't it fun to watch him run?"

Never more so than on Notre Dame's first offensive play of the second half. With the Irish trailing by two touchdowns, Atkinson was handed the ball at his own 20. Eighty yards and 13 seconds later, the Irish trailed by one touchdown. Even from 80 yards behind the action, where left tackle Zack Martin had helped spring the run, the play had nothing but endearing qualities.

"It looks pretty good. For us coming out in the second half, our defense gets a big stop and we score and we're kind of right back in the game," Martin said. "It was a huge play by him and gave us some life."

The run was ND's longest from scrimmage since Oct. 21, 2000 when Terrance Howard scored on an 80-yard run at West Virginia.

"Really good, powerful guy, fast," was Oklahoma coach Bob Stoops' assessment of Atkinson, who was sick and did not play against the Sooners last year. "Really a good football player."

Three interceptions, however, were too much for the Irish to overcome, as ND lost for the first time in 16 games when it has run for 200 yards or more. For the day, the Irish ran for 220 yards but passed for just 104 against the 14th-ranked and 4-0 Sooners.

Atkinson deferred when asked what needs to improve as the Irish prepare for next weekend's game against Arizona State in Arlington, Texas.

"I could say a lot but that's why we have coaches," Atkinson said. "We'll do what we're told and move from there."

Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III (4) celebrates a touchdown with wide receiver Daniel Smith (87) during an NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 28, 2013, at Notre Dame. SBT Photo/JAMES BROSHER