Notebook: Brian Kelly expects other Notre Dame running backs to help Kyren Williams

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

What Kyren Williams did on Saturday against Duke hadn’t been done since 1983.

In racking up 112 rushing yards and 93 receiving yards, Williams became the first Notre Dame football player to total at least 90 rushing yards and 90 receiving yards in a game since running back Allen Pinkett against Air Force in 1983.

The feat was so rare that it took additional digging from former Clemson sports information director Tim Bourret, a 1977 Notre Dame graduate, to find the most recent example.

Williams, who was named the ACC Running Back of the Week, might not be able to match that production with regularity, but the amount of work he received could remain similar. Williams needed 21 offensive touches (19 carries and two catches) to reach 205 yards of total offense against Duke.

Last season, lead running back Tony Jones Jr. surpassed 21 touches only once when he received 25 carries in a 176-yard performance against USC. Jones recorded more than 15 touches only three other times: Virginia (19), Boston College (16) and Stanford (16).

The 5-foot-9, 194-pound Williams proved he could handle the heavy workload, but he also has a backfield rotation behind him capable of helping.

“He has shown himself to have the ability, in terms of the numbers he produced, that he adds a dimension to our offense that makes us a better offense,” head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. “So we’re going to see him continue to play a large role, but you also saw a Jafar Armstrong who can catch it and play physical.”

Kelly went on to list freshman running back Chris Tyree and juniors Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister as needed contributors too. Armstrong, a senior, turned his four touches (two carries and two catches) against Duke into 25 yards. Tyree rushed six times for 20 yards, and Smith carried five times for 15 yards.

Flemister did not play as he continues to recover from a collarbone injury, Kelly said, but Flemister could be back to 100 percent in time for Saturday’s home game with South Florida (2:30 p.m. on USA Network).

“I still think it’s important that those other guys get touches, because they can help our offense,” Kelly said. “What (Williams) can do to our offense has separated himself a little bit, but all those guys are going to be integral and important to our success moving forward.”

Like the rest of the offense, Williams took a while to find his footing Saturday. But the running game found more room to operate after the offensive line settled into its game plan and recognized what Duke was trying to do.

“We started to run effectively in the second half as we got more comfortable as an entire offensive unit,” Kelly said. “Our backs saw the things the way they needed to. Our (blocking) aiming points were much better.

“Running the outside zone and the inside zone is something that we didn’t do very much last year. They felt a lot more comfortable.”

Contract extension

Brian Kelly might coach against Texas A&M in 2024 after all.

When the two-game series between Notre Dame and Texas A&M scheduled for 2024-25 was announced in 2014, Kelly didn’t envision himself wearing a headset on the sideline.

"I'll be sipping a Mai Tai on the beach somewhere, watching that game," Kelly quipped in 2014.

But after Notre Dame announced Saturday a contract extension that runs through the 2024 season, Kelly may have to rearrange his beach schedule.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Kelly said Monday of the extension. “I’m blessed that the university has given that trust in me to continue to lead this program. I feel blessed to have that opportunity, obviously knowing the great history and tradition of Notre Dame football, to be entrusted with that.

“I take that quite serious. When we discussed this, I needed to have the energy, the enthusiasm and the want-to to continue to lead this program and really feel like there was more to accomplish, which I do.

“So all those things had to align. And it still doesn’t mean I can’t have a Mai Tai in July on the beach, so I’m not lying. We can still do both.

“In all seriousness, it still needed to be things that I needed and wanted to accomplish and what I believe our program could still achieve and that is still the ultimate goal. Our mission is to win a national championship.”

Extra points

• Though Notre Dame’s defense included a deep rotation on the defensive line and at linebacker, the starters in the Irish secondary were tasked with doing most of the work against Duke. Cornerbacks Nick McCloud and TaRiq Bracy were left to do the heavy lifting with inexperienced cornerbacks Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis waiting for opportunities.

“The evaluation was that we probably needed to rotate them out a little bit,” Kelly said. “They played a little bit too much. They got a little tired. We’ll do a better job there.”

The safety positions need more rotation too, Kelly said. DJ Brown and Shaun Crawford manned the safety spots when Kyle Hamilton went down with an ankle injury.

• With wide receiver Ben Skowronek likely sidelined this week with a hamstring injury, Kelly suggested freshmen Xavier Watts and Jordan Johnson may need to accelerate their growth and be ready to play. Neither played last week against Duke.

Johnson, rated as a five-star recruit by Rivals, still has work to do on and off the field.

“He’s still finding himself as a student-athlete here,” Kelly said. “There’s a lot on his plate. He’s getting better. He had a really good week last week with his traits. We saw some progress there.

“This isn’t just about football. He has football talent. We have to continue to work on his attention to detail and his focus. We’re getting better there. As those traits continue to develop, there are good prospects down the road for Jordan.”

• The Notre Dame-Wake Forest game on Sept. 26 has been assigned a noon EDT kickoff on ABC, the ACC announced Monday.

It will be Notre Dame’s first trip to Winston-Salem, N.C., since a 56-27 victory over Wake Forest in 2018. Ian Book overtook Brandon Wimbush for the starting quarterback job that week.

The Demon Deacons lost their season opener 37-13 to Clemson on Saturday.

Running back Kyren Williams, middle, was asked to carry a heavy work load in his debut as Notre Dame’s starting running back against Duke.
After making little impact on Saturdays in his freshman season, can former five-star recruit Jordan Johnson become a playmaker at wide receiver in 2021 for Notre Dame?

NO. 7 NOTRE DAME (1-0) vs. USF (1-0)

Kickoff: Saturday at 2:30 p.m. EDT

Where: Notre Dame Stadium

TV: USA Network

Radio: WSBT (AM 960, FM 96.1), WNSN-FM (101.5)

Line: Notre Dame by 26