SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – C.J. Prosise doesn’t remember the exact snap, but it came Tuesday during Notre Dame’s penultimate practice. The senior running back made a cut in the backfield, accelerated through the hole and came out the other side looking like the player who seemed sure to set the school’s single-season rushing record two months ago.
“I really think I’m at 100 percent,” Prosise said. “I think I can go out there and make big plays against that defense.”
Heading into Ohio State, the safety turned receiver turned running back is riding a five-game skid of 27 carries, 110 yards, one concussion, one high ankle sprain, two fumbles and two DNPs. That doesn’t include the shoulder injury suffered against Georgia Tech that didn’t heal until Fiesta Bowl prep.
Prosise’s comeback has been slow after getting bent backward against Boston College almost six weeks ago. That severe ankle sprain put him in some kind of cast for the next three weeks. He didn’t begin running until mid-December.
“I'd like to get a lot out of him, a lot of big plays in particular,” said head coach Brian Kelly. “I think the timing is good. We got a couple more days. But I expect to see him do some things for us offensively. He's going to share carries.”
That would have been a reality for Notre Dame even if Prosise had been 100 percent throughout bowl prep after freshman Josh Adams ran away with the job in November.
In terms of splitting those carries, the Prosise-Adams combination averaged 23.3 carries per game when they both got work. But they went beyond 25 carries just once. In other words, if Prosise can give the Irish 10 carries and Adams logs 15 it would likely keep Notre Dame’s offense on pace.
Ohio State ranks in the Top 25 of every major statistical rush defense category, although it will play without its top interior defensive lineman in Adolphus Washington (suspension). The Buckeyes have allowed just eight rushing touchdowns all year. Only Alabama, Ole Miss, Boston College and Florida State were better.
“I knew it would take a couple weeks to get back,” Prosise said. “It maybe took a little bit longer than I thought.
“I think it’s more of a mental thing right now, knowing that I’ll be able to make those cuts that I was making earlier in the season. That’s really want I want to get back to.”
Prosise said he’d received his NFL Draft feedback but declined to reveal it. He admitted it was what he expected from the league’s committee that advises underclassmen. Prosise said he could announce his decision soon after the bowl game but was unclear on his timetable.
If he returns for a fifth year he might share carries with not only Adams but also Tarean Folston. Notre Dame’s former starter went down in the opener with an ACL, opening the door for Prosise. Now Adams has charged through that Next Man In gateway as well, impressing everyone, Prosise included.
“I’ve learned from him. I learned to look at things he’s done,” Prosise said. “A lot of people didn’t think he was as fast as he is. Learning a college offense, playing in it and thriving in it, it’s not easy to do.”
Notre Dame hopes its ground game – the school’s best since the final season of the Lou Holtz era – can find another gear Friday. The ankle of C.J. Prosise may determine if they can.