Josh Adams has work ahead to be all-around back for Notre Dame

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND – It was a whiff.

A complete miss.

Some might say it was a bodacious miss.

And Josh Adams heard about it.

By the time last week’s football game with Michigan State went south, Notre Dame had junked its offensive game plan and went into the two-minute drill – for 18 minutes.

That’s normally bad news for a running back like Adams. His role was reduced to pass routes and protection, instead of what he does best – running the ball.

On this particular play, the 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore had a specific assignment. He misread the defense and, by the time he realized his mistake, Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer was getting clobbered.

“I misread my protection and didn’t get a guy I was supposed to,” Adams said. “Anytime you don’t see (the assigned man) clearly, that’s a big miss. It’s a different thing if you see him and you miss.

“Right away, that’s a big problem.”

That’s just one of the growing pains for the between-the-tackles power back, who had just 29 net yards on 12 carries in the loss to the Spartans.

During the game, he became the quickest to gain 1,000 yards at Notre Dame since Darius Walker in 2005. It was also his opportunity to shine as he was selected to wear the No. 1 jersey, a weekly honor for hard work.

“Since he's gotten here as a freshman, the way he's worked (has been impressive),” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly. “It's been a championship-level kind of work ethic. He's clearly one of our best workers in practice. He sets a high bar, and that's why he'll wear the jersey No. 1.”

“(Wearing No. 1), there’s an excitement that comes from it,” Adams said. “You know what you’re representing. You know your teammates are behind you 100 percent.

“I was a little surprised. I was thinking about the guys that came before me, and the guys I’m with in the running backs room; guys who are part of our family.”

While running for 178 yards on 33 carries as the go-to back ahead of Tarean Folston, Adams is still looking for his first touchdown this season.

Matching up against Duke Saturday should give him a better opportunity for success than he had with the Spartans. The Blue Devils give up 154 rushing yards a game.

“Our first half, we had pretty good balance in what we wanted to do,” Kelly said of the Michigan State game. “We carved out the kind of run game. We were inconsistent in our performance, certainly, and then we only ran the ball twice in the fourth quarter and kind of got behind and never were really able to settle in.”

Trailing by 29 points in the third quarter can cause a team to take desperate measures.

“When we have to pass, we have to tap into that part of our game – run routes, pass protect,” Adams said. “It’s part of our DNA, to be able to adjust.

“We can be more consistent; start off stronger. We can definitely have some bigger plays early in the game. Those are all the things you look for in a great offense. That’s what we strive to be.”

Adams said he is committed to taking that leap into the rare air of the elite backs. He has the blueprint mapped out in front of him.

“I have to do a better job of being aggressive, making sure I’m not getting tackled by just one man,” Adams said. “If you can break one tackle, it can be a big play.

“I need to do a better job in pass protection; all the little things. That will come with repetition.”

Judging by the “big whiff,” improving pass protection isn’t one of the little things. That, likely, has been a major point of emphasis for Adams behind closed doors this week.

“What we can control is how hard we work and how fast we play,” Adams said. “Hopefully, that affects everybody else by our example. We’ll bring our game to the next level.

“Finishing runs is something I need to do a better job with. If you want to be an all-around player, pass protection has to be on the list (for improvement).”

All-around players don’t whiff.

Adams understands he isn’t there yet – even if he did wear No. 1.

Notre Dame sophomore running back Josh Adams (1) runs into a swarming Michigan State defense in a 36-28 Irish loss on Sept. 17. (Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)