Notre Dame Running Game Looks to take the Next Step in 2017

Josh Adams has had a stellar two years running the football in South Bend. Beside him, Tony Jones, Jr. has emerged as a talented addition to Notre Dame’s backfield. Together, the two are carving out a two-headed monster at running back that will allow their offense to thrive in 2017.

Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish breaks a tackle while running with the ball in the second half against the Nevada Wolf Pack at Notre Dame Stadium on September 10, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Sept. 9, 2016 — Source: Joe Robbins/Getty Images North America)

In his first two seasons at Notre Dame, running back Josh Adams is averaging nearly 6.5 yards per carry. Despite Adams’ successes, there still are some questions about the running game. Adams’ major strength is his athleticism and his breakaway speed, but it’s fair to question his abilities as a consistent, short-yardage back. Take away his longest carry in every game last season and Adams’ yards per carry average drops from 5.9 YPC to 4.1 YPC.

In fairness, long runs bolster any running back’s yards per carry average, but Adams’ stats tell a story of inconsistency. Some of this inconsistency comes from poor offensive line play, while some of it comes from inconsistent play-calling.

Defense aside, it was the Irish’s inability to convert on third down that cost them so often in 2016. Despite scoring nearly 31 points per game, the Irish were only able to convert less than 41% of their third-down opportunities.

For more context, in Notre Dame’s 4 wins, the Irish converted on 28 out of 56 (50%) third-down attempts. In their 8 losses, the Irish converted on only 40 out of 112 (35.7%) third down attempts.

Not-so-pleasant reminder: 7 of Notre Dame’s 8 losses came by 8 points or fewer.

Third down struggles played a major part in Notre Dame’s poor season and an inconsistent running game is a major culprit of those struggles. A veteran offensive line, a veteran Josh Adams, and the emergence of Tony Jones, Jr. as more of a power back, the Irish should have a more well-rounded rushing attack to help first-time starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush.

In addition to his ability as a power back, Jones has impressed the Irish coaching staff with his pass-catching abilities, which will make him even more of a threat in third-down-and-short situations.

Take a look at Jones running through the tackle of cornerback Nick Watkins at a recent practice:

Offensive Coordinator Chip Long will be calling the plays in 2017

Adams and Jones have skillsets that will complement each other nicely. With an offensive line that returns 4 starters, the Irish have the tools to control the ground game if they are willing to commit to it, which shouldn’t be an issue under new offensive coordinator Chip Long, whose Memphis team ran for over 2500 yards last season. Notre Dame ran for just over 1900 yards last season.