Notebook: Hard running allows RB Jafar Armstrong to set career high at Wake Forest

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

WINSTON SALEM, N.C. — Jafar Armstrong didn’t know he fell just two yards short of his first 100-yard game.

When a reporter informed the sophomore running back of his 98-yard performance following the 56-27 victory by eighth-ranked Notre Dame over Wake Forest on Saturday, Armstrong couldn’t hide his disappointment.

He quickly recovered to toe the company line.

“The most important thing is we got the win,” Armstrong said. “Would love to have gotten my first 100-yard game, but we have a lot more planned. I’m just blessed to be in the position to have a pretty good game.”

Armstrong’s career high came one week after junior running back Tony Jones Jr. set his career high, with 118 rushing yards against Vanderbilt. Every Irish running back was effective on Saturday.

Armstrong needed just eight carries to hit 98 yards and two touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Avery Davis rushed nine times for 43 yards. Jones tallied 39 yards and one touchdown on seven carries. Freshman Jahmir Smith even produced 16 yards on his first two career rushes in a return to his home state.

Armstrong and Jones, who have combined for 508 rushing yards this season, have a healthy competition going.

“Tony and I are always motivating each other trying to run off each other’s emotions,” Armstrong said. “Today we did a great job of that. He ran hard. All the backs that traveled got in today. That says a lot about how the running backs did today.”

They did it behind an offensive line that cleared the way for more than 200 rushing yards for the second consecutive game.

“You get fired up when your backs are running hard like that,” said center Sam Mustipher. “Not only Jafar, Tony, (wide receiver) Mike Young on that one (screen) cutting back across the field, then blocking downfield. When you have guys who are out there playing physical and playing hard, it jacks you up, especially if it’s a skill guy.”

As Armstrong and Jones continue to develop their games, it’s becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between the two. Armstrong has been running hard, and Jones has been explosive and making plays out of the backfield. Those skill sets are supposed to be the strengths of the other back.

“Tony and I carrying the load for most of the first four games, we had to make sure that we’re finishing every play and getting the most out of each run,” Armstrong said. “One’s tired, we’ll come in. But we had to make sure that we came in and feed off each other and run hard.”

Armstong and Jones were finishing runs with Wake Forest defenders ending up on their backs from making tackles. Armstrong, who had never played running back before this season, said he’s starting to get comfortable reading his blocks and trusting his offensive line.

“I’m really coming into myself as a running back,” Armstrong said. “The first few games, I wasn’t finishing runs as hard. I was going down a little bit too easy. This game was my best game regarding just running hard and finishing every play.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he added more live reps into the preseason to prepare his inexperienced running backs, but it’s taken time for them to adjust to the game speed.

“They needed game reps. They needed these games to really find themselves,” Kelly said. “Now they know they can lower their shoulder and run through players. They still have to pick their feet up and run through and make some more plays.”

Wimbush watch

Brandon Wimbush took in Saturday’s game from the sideline wearing a baseball hat. Even though Kelly said Thursday both Ian Book and Wimbush would play against Wake Forest — while hiding the fact that Book would be the starting quarterback — Wimbush never took a snap on Saturday.

Book even stayed on the field to hold for extra points.

At times, Wimbush was standing on the sidelines by himself with his hands in the front collar of his shoulder pads. Late in the game, he was seen talking to freshman quarterback Phil Jurkovec after the latter made his college debut.

Kelly was adamant after the game that Wimbush will be needed in the future.

“It would be absolutely foolish for me to sit here in front of you and go, ‘We’ve got one quarterback and one quarterback only.’ We’ve got two really good quarterbacks,” Kelly said. “And I’m going to reserve the right to decide each and every week who’s the best guy for that week to win.”

Squibs

• Quarterback Ian Book averaged 13 yards per completion (25-of-34 for 325 yards) against Wake Forest. That’s the best per completion average for a Notre Dame quarteraback with at least 25 completions since Jimmy Clausen averaged 13.44 yards (25-of-42 for 336) against Michigan in 2009.

• The 56 points scored by the Irish on Saturday are the most points scored by Notre Dame in a true road game since a 57-7 win at Stanford in 2003.

• Notre Dame did not allow Wake Forest to start farther than its own 25-yard line on any of its nine kickoffs by Jonathan Doerer. The Demon Deacons only averaged 16.75 yards on four returns. Doerer kicked the other five for touchbacks.

• Junior cornerback Julian Love moved into a tie with Clarence Ellis for the Notre Dame career record for pass breakups at 32 total. Love was credited with one breakup in the second quarter against Wake Forest.

• Thirteen freshmen made Notre Dame’s first travel roster of the season: defensive backs Houston Griffith, D.J. Brown and TaRiq Bracy, wide receivers Kevin Austin and Joe Wilkins, linebackers Bo Bauer and Shayne Simon, defensive linemen Jayson Ademilola, Justin Ademilola and Jamion Franklin, quarterback Phil Jurkovec, running back Jahmir Smith, and walk-on long snapper Michael Vinson.

Notre Dame’s Jafar Armstrong (8) dives into the end zone during the Notre Dame-Wake Forest NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 22, 2018, at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, NC.