Back to the Backfield?

Notre Dame stubbornly (and wisely) stuck to the run in Saturday's win over Boston College. Shorthanded without senior star Jonas Gray, can it do the same vs. a much more powerful offense (and rush defense) this week in Palo Alto?

Former Runner In?

Though Irish head coach Brian Kelly had not received the results of an MRI on Jonas Gray's knee when he spoke with the media Sunday afternoon, he did offer that the senior has "a significant knee injury."

Kelly stated post-game Saturday that his freshmen backups, George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel possessed similar knowledge base of the offense, and would thus likely be the "Next Men In."

What about former running back-turned slot receiver, Theo Riddick?

"I think we'll look at all of those possibilities. We're into a one-game season, so to speak, when it comes to Stanford," Kelly said. "We'll sit down and as a staff, first of all see what Theo is able do physically. Then decide whether he can go into a running back position and help us out. We haven't made that decision, but we'll certainly consider it."

Riddick was unable to play Saturday with a hamstring injury, his second straight game on the sidelines. He averaged 5.5 yards per carry as a true freshman tailback under former coach Charlie Weis and, coincidentally, was the team's starting tailback at Stanford in Weis' final game. It was Riddick's only start at the position; he finished with six carries, 35 yards, and his only lost fumble of the season (Robert Hughes ran for 74 yards on 13 carries in relief).

In Riddick's stead in the slot the last two weeks has stepped classmate Robby Toma. Toma provided a spark, recording 12 catches for 139 yard including one 21-yard grab of the spectacular variety.

No QB In?

Redshirt-freshman Andrew Hendrix made a splash in his Game Six debut last month, rifling through a porous Air Force defense for 111 rushing yards (a 78-yarder doing the bulk of the damage) and completing all four of his short passes. Since, Hendrix has appeared vs. only USC (three carries/five yards) and at the conclusion of the Maryland game.

Was his mid-season insertion as a change of pace to statuesque signal-caller Tommy Rees a failed experiment?

"He just stays ready. We continue to give him work," Kelly said of his third-string quarterback's role in practice. "As you see, we're committed to Tommy being in there. We keep (Hendrix) ready. He has a package of plays that has expanded from week to week.

"And I know he's not on the field, but he's getting valuable time with us in practice. He's getting valuable time being on the sidelines and being close to the game."

Kelly offered that Saturday's win over Boston College afforded Hendrix few opportunities.

"I think when we look at it, it's probably more about the time in the game. We were backed up quite a bit," he noted of the team's chronically poor field position. "You don't want to risk turnovers in those situations. So I think it's been (that ND has been) up a lot or in tight ball game that has prevented him from maybe getting on the field."

The head coach added that the staff evaluates their roster a bit differently than the rest of us.

"I think he's done well. He's learned so much more about our offense. I know he's a lot more confident in his ability to run our offense," Kelly said of Hendrix in comparison to earlier this season. "Like I said, I know he hasn't played much but I don't think that's the way we evaluate his progress. His progress for us as a staff has been what we were looking for."

Stuff Run Drop Eight: Take 3?

Stanford ripped Notre Dame in South Bend last season, 37-14, and key to the defensive effort, one that kept the Irish from a meaningful touchdown until a 34-6 advantage had been forged, was a Cardinal defense that often dropped eight defenders into coverage.

Then-starting quarterback Dayne Crist was unable to burn Stanford with his feet or any throws of consequence downfield, and the Irish offense sputtered on third-down (4-13) as a result. Crist was sacked twice, Stanford recorded six tackles for loss, and Notre Dame managed 44 rushing yards on 23 frustrating carries.

Fast forward to November 19, 2011, when Boston College employed a similar tactic – dropping eight, sometimes nine defenders into coverage but like Stanford, committed eight defenders to first stopping the run.

"I thought their game plan stayed fairly consistent," said Kelly when asked about any particular wrinkles the Eagles employed. "They were trying to add an extra guy to the run in most occasions. Sometimes it's just a matter of you're going to run the ball anyway, they know it, we know it.

"With the weather conditions, it was blustery, we just felt running the football, regardless of their scheme, was what we had to do and just tough it out. I thought they did a pretty good job up front," Kelly noted, adding field position played a major role in Notre Dame's plan of attack.

Notre Dame ran for 161 yards on 39 carries (4.12 yards-per-carry) despite playing most of the second half without star runner, Jonas Gray.

Running the football and punting (eight punts, six of them beneficial to the Irish) helped secure victory for the Irish as Kelly relied on his solid defense to win the game vs. a terrible Boston College offense. Included in that tactic was a fourth quarter punt from the Eagles 40-yard line – a decision that drew boos from the stands.

"What played into it mostly was that our defense was playing really, really well and they had been playing on a couple of short fields," Kelly offered. "I felt like we owed them the opportunity to play with a better field position situation.

"It worked out (Notre Dame forced a punt and kicked the game-clinching field goal on its ensuing possession). Like everybody else in the stands I wanted to go for it, too. But I had to be prudent in that situation, and I felt like the best decision there was to give our defense the opportunity to go back out there on a long field."


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