Strategic wrinkle propels Notre Dame RB C.J. Prosise

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The biggest adjustments in Notre Dame’s running game Saturday were technically passes.

Rather than just handing the ball to running back C.J. Prosise, Notre Dame gave the senior running back a head start by sending him in motion from one side of the offense and pitching him a forward lateral as he passed in front of quarterback DeShone Kizer.

It was a wrinkle designed to take advantage of Prosise’s speed and expose the edges of Navy’s defense.

“Sometimes it's a matter of trying to build some speed and get him to the perimeter either by putting a tight end on the edge of your offense or by trying to get some of the hand off sweep action and get him outside of some of that edge pressure,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said after the game. “Just trying to get one of our skill players on the edge of their defense was part of our plan.”

The plan worked in a 41-24 victory for the Irish. Prosise finished with 56 receiving yards, many of which came from the forward laterals from Kizer in the backfield.

“It's fun because you get to come around full speed,” Prosise said. “It's hard for the guys inside like linebackers to catch up with you. You have a lot of space on the outside."

The traditional runs were working for Prosise as well. His 21 carries racked up 129 yards and three touchdowns.

Prosise rebounded from the worst rushing performance of his short running back career last week against Clemson. The Tigers limited him to 50 yards on 15 carries on the rain-soaked surface in South Carolina. He’s rushed for at least 98 yards in every other game this season — his first as a full-time running back.

Prosise admitted running Saturday on a sunny day in Notre Dame Stadium was much easier than slogging through the mud last week.

“It's so much easier especially when you have good weather, turf and it's back at home in front of your fans,” Prosise said. “The energy is going. The adrenaline is going. It's definitely a fun game for me."

When Prosise starts rolling like he was Saturday, he often breaks tackles and rarely goes down on first contact.

“I don't ever want one guy to tackle me,” Prosise said. “I hate it when one guy tackles me. I always want to make three or four come over to try to make the tackle.”

Prosise refused to be taken down on his last touchdown — an 11-yard yard scamper in which he fought through three defenders near the goal line to score. After bouncing around a clogged hole behind center Nick Martin, Prosise broke through the line of scrimmage, side-stepped two defenders in the middle of the defense and dove for the end zone after being spun around by contact.

Navy head coach Ken Niutatalolo called Prosise slithery. Kelly described Prosise as patient. Kizer labeled him unbelievable. No matter the adjective, Prosise has proved to be a prolific running back.

“He's still evolving within that role,” Kelly said. “He missed a couple protections today. But what I like the most about him is he is in that learning curve, and he's excited about every single day working towards being a better running back. Here's a guy that's a veteran player that is embracing his position as a freshman, really, and learning about his position every single day.”

Prosise, who initially thought he would work sparingly in the backfield before running back Tarean Folston was lost for the season with a knee injury, can sense his development as he puts more tread on his tires. His focus lately has been on his patience and pad level. The scary part for opposing defenses should be that Prosise is far from a finished product.

“It’s great because every week you're seeing something new,” Prosise said. “It feels great to know that you're improving and in your mind the game is slowing down for you.”

Wide receiver Will Fuller became Notre Dame’s Mr. Reliable last season in the passing game. This season, Prosise has taken the same role in the backfield.

“It's always a fall-back to put the ball in his hands and allow him to try to get some yards,” Kizer said. “C.J.'s an amazing running back, and I'm excited to see what he continues to do for us."

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Notre Dame's C.J. Prosise (20) runs past Navy's Micah Thomas (44) and D.J. Palmore (45) during the fourth quarter of the Fighting Irish's 41-24 win over Navy, Saturday, October 10, 2015, in South Bend. SBT Photo/ BECKY MALEWITZ