The constant questions about how much C.J. Prosise was too much C.J. Prosise feel a lot more topical today with Notre Dame’s starting running back sidelined by a nagging left shoulder and tricky concussion.
Before last weekend’s breaking point at Pittsburgh when a seemingly innocent first quarter tackle ended his day, Prosise was on track to power past the high-carry mark for any running back of the Brian Kelly era. He was also on pace to set the single-season rushing record at Notre Dame.
Prosise is barely off Vagas Ferguson’s pace now, but he’s unlikely to pick up where he left off this week against Wake Forest, assuming he picks back up at all.
Kelly said he’ll know if Prosise can go on Wednesday as the senior continues to progress through concussion protocol. He could probably use the break regardless because the wear of his first season at running back is starting to show.
Irish Illustrated has tracked rushing efficiency all season, basically a way to tell if running backs can consistently keep the offense on schedule.
Rush efficiency is measured by how often a running back picks up 40 percent of the necessary yardage on first down (a four-yard run on 1st-and-10), 60 percent of the necessary yardage on second down (a three-yard run on 2nd-and-5) and 100 percent of the necessary yardage on third or fourth down (move the chains).
Prosise started the season hot in that department. In the first four games his rush efficiency was 62.6 percent, a highly productive numbers historically under Kelly. If Prosise had maintained that rate it would have ranked only behind Jonas Gray’s senior year in efficiency (70.5 percent) among Kelly backs.
But from the Clemson game forward Prosise’s efficiency has been just 45.9 percent, including a combined 9-of-29 (31.0 percent) against Clemson and Temple. Those are the only Top 20 rush defenses Notre Dame has faced all season. Boston College ranks first in that department.
For the year, Prosise’s rush efficiency is 54.1 percent.
Should Prosise sit it elevates freshman Josh Adams into the starting role, where he’s thrived as a lead back. Within a smaller sample size Adams actually has a better rush efficiency than Prosise at 66.0 percent for the season. Fair warning, he got just two carries against Clemson and Temple combined (both at Clemson) and neither were efficient runs. But he was 12-of-19 last weekend at Pittsburgh as the run game went vertical.
Notre Dame executed a season-high 25 rushing attempts up the middle at Pitt (mainly between the tackles), which suits Adams’ strengths. He finished with 20 carries for 147 yards, one off the freshman school record.
“I think there is a comfort level there,” Kelly said of Adams on inside runs. “I think C.J. has a natural ability. I think he has muscle memory that maybe Josh has in a sense that he does it all the time especially as it relates to contact and how he runs through contact.
“C.J.'s working through that more. C.J. wants to make you miss, where Josh just expects there are two guys on my legs and I'm running through this.”
A Prosise absence would also elevate Dexter Williams into a more significant role after playing in just three games this season (Texas, UMass and Pitt), totaling 17 carries for 78 yards and a touchdown. His sample size in rushing efficiency is limited to end-of-game situations, but he’s 13-of-17 or 76.5 percent.
As much as Williams might be the better natural runner over Adams, Kelly has been quick to point out pass protection issues, including one last weekend that helped lead to Brandon Wimbush’s lost fumble that Pitt returned for a touchdown.
“Just continue to develop on the more intricate parts of the game that maybe you don’t see,” Kelly said. “We love the way he runs the ball. There is no question about his physical ability. He's got to learn more about some of the intricate parts of the game and just keep learning and practice.
“We’re counting on him having a great week. We need him to have a great week.”
What Notre Dame doesn’t need is to rush Prosise back against Wake Forest.
Conventional wisdom states the Irish offense should be fine against a program with just one Power 5 win, a 3-0 victory at Boston College. The Demon Deacons are middle of the pack nationally in yards per carry allowed at 4.22. Wake has allowed three 100-yard rushers this year. A fourth could be coming this weekend.
For Notre Dame, it’s probably better if that’s Adams rather than Prosise.