POPE: Irish have options in backfield
By LaMond Pope firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter: @lamondpope August 12, 2014 9:36PM
Notre Dame's Cam McDaniel runs drills during the first training camp practice on Monday, Aug. 4, 2014, at Culver Academies in Culver, Ind. (AP Photo/South Bend Tribune, Robert Franklin) ORG XMIT: INSBE209
Updated: September 14, 2014 6:39AM
SOUTH BEND — What do you get when you combine someone with a knack for picking up the tough yards with an emerging threat and another player looking to bounce back from an injury?
Notre Dame hopes the answer is a whole lot of rushing yards.
Cam McDaniel exhibited the ability last year — whether it was against Purdue, Michigan State or Arizona State — to get those yards to help put games away.
Tarean Folston had a breakout performance against Navy and ended the season on a high note with another strong outing against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
And Greg Bryant is back after missing most of 2013 because of injury.
If Notre Dame is going to improve on its 2013 rushing totals (151.3 yards per game, 80th nationally) — and it must if it wants to be in the discussion for the College Football Playoff — then the three will have to combine for some big numbers.
“We are all working together with this thing,” Folston said. “We are all on the same team. We’ll work hard. When one is tired, we push each other.”
None of the three has jumped out ahead as the No. 1 back. Not that one exactly needs to. All three will be utilized.
It’s the combined effort — with the added rushing production at quarterback — that matters.
“We’re all going to make plays. When Tarean gets the ball, he’s going to make a play,” Bryant said. “When Cam gets the ball, he’s going to make a play. I’m going to definitely make a play. Whenever you get the ball, you’ve got to make the best of an opportunity.”
Bryant didn’t get much of an opportunity last year. He only appeared in three games because of a knee injury.
“I was going through a lot with my knee. I couldn’t run as fast as now. I couldn’t be as powerful as I am now,” Bryant said. “That was a minor setback for a major comeback. I’m back now and I’m ready to go.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has raved about Bryant’s power. But for that major comeback to lead to major yards, Kelly said Bryant will have to trust his offensive line.
“Greg will have a tendency to spurt out without that block setting up. Cam does a great job of setting that up and then hitting it. Greg has to trust his linemen and not just let his athletic ability take over,” Kelly said.
Bryant had 14 yards on three carries. McDaniel led the Irish with 705 rushing yards. Folston was third with 470 yards. McDaniel and Folston both had three rushing touchdowns.
Folston had 116 yards heading into the Nov. 2 game against Navy. He racked up 140 yards and scored his first touchdown in the 38-34 victory.
“I felt like I was in high school again, not competition-wise, but just that feeling. Moving down the field, moving down the field and then I scored and we won the game,” Folston said. “It was real exciting.”
He then rushed for at least 73 yards in two of the team’s last three games.
“Playing in those games helped out a lot,” he said. “Not necessarily to boost my confidence, but just the realistic part of it, just being in the games, running those plays and then going back over film and seeing what I did wrong or what I did right so that could flip over to the next season.”
Those lessons will be critical for all the backs, and the Irish, in 2014.