Notre Dame running backs not looking out for No. 1

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — After watching Josh Adams bounce through a hole and avoid defenders like a slalom skier, it would be easy to identify him as Notre Dame’s No. 1 running back.

With only 10 carries in the 39-10 victory over Nevada, Adams rushed for a team-high 106 yards. But no one answering questions in Notre Dame apparel wanted to throw definitive labels around after the game.

“He's good,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “You can call him whatever you want. No. 1, No. 101.

“It's one of those things where (Tarean) Folston had 10 carries, Adams had 10 carries, (Dexter) Williams had (8) carries. You can make the argument, should he get 20?

“Folston is a pretty sharp guy, too. Dexter is explosive. We’ll keep it balanced in there, but Adams looked good today.”

One thing was clear: running the ball will be a priority for Notre Dame. The Irish racked up more than 200 rushing yards for the second time in as many games this season. The 239 yards against the Wolf Pack surpassed last week’s 206-yard total against Texas.

“We felt like from an offensive standpoint it was important to continue to run the football. Back-to-back weeks rushing over 200 yards,” Kelly said. “That's important to us.”

The workload was split evenly behind the Irish offensive line. Adams led the way in yardage, but Folston and DeShone Kizer each carried it 10 times. Williams was the second-most productive with 59 yards on his eight carries. Only Adams failed to find the end zone out of that foursome.

“It’s great when you have guys that you can put in there and the offense still moves at the high tempo that we need to move at,” Adams said. “It’s definitely special for all of us to get in there, get our experience up and really try to dominate as a unit.”

The 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore from Warrington, Pa., provided the highlight of the night in the running game with his 43-yard scamper in the third quarter. He was forced to make the first defender miss in the backfield, but that didn’t stop him from weaving in and out of failed tackle attempts like he was playing Frogger.

Adams had yet to see the replay of his run when speaking to the reporters. Maybe that’s why he made it sound so nonchalant when trying to describe it. He even lamented that he was eventually tackled from behind to prevent him from scoring a touchdown.

“I just know that it’s a tight area, so I have to do my best to get up field and get as many yards as I can,” Adams said. “The D-end, he flew upfield, so my mindset is to get as much yards as you can and try to make something out of nothing. Of course, the offensive line was doing a great job as always of helping me and moving the chains.”

Folston, the senior leader of the running back unit, had a special moment of his own when he scored on a two-yard run in the second quarter. His return to Notre Dame Stadium was complete after tearing his ACL the last time he played a game in South Bend a little more than a year ago.

“I’m not going to lie, I was kind of nervous to play on the field again because I had my injury here,” Folston said. “It’s football, man. There’s nothing wrong with the field. It’s just me and my mind. I’m good on any field. To get that touchdown, it meant a lot to me.”

Folston finds pride in running game becoming a focal point of the Notre Dame offense. His understudies are challenging to replace him, but he refuses to feel selfish.

“That’s love. We have Josh over there rushing for 100. Dex came in and he balled out,” Folston said. “I’m glad to see them boys do good.”

While the debate on the No. 1 running back carries on in bars and on message boards, the running backs involved continue to stiff-arm away the questions.

Just a week ago, Adams made a tackle in punt coverage against Texas. He walked into the postgame interview room Saturday wearing an Under Armour hat with the special teams slogan of “J.U.I.C.E.” on the front.

The letters, Adams said, stand for “Jacked Up Intensity Continuous Effort.” The only numbers he’s concerned with are in the “net yards rushing” category in the box score.

“I don’t really focus on anything like that,” Adams said of being the No. 1 running back. “What I have to do is focus on my job and focus on if we’re executing as a unit. At the end of the day, if none of us are doing the job and we’re not getting games where we’re going over 300, 200 rushing yards then it doesn’t matter who’s the No. 1.”

tjames@ndinsider.com | 574-235-6214 | Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame's Tarean Folston (25) runs into the end zone against Nevada's Alex Bertrando (56) at Notre Dame Stadium, Saturday, September 10, 2016 in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ BECKY MALEWITZ