Notre Dame Football: RB George Atkinson III out vs. Oklahoma Due to Illness

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistOctober 27, 2012

September 15, 2012; East Lansing, MI, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back George Atkinson III (4) runs the ball as Michigan State Spartan defenders pursue during the first half at Spartan Stadium.    Mandatory Credit: Mike Carter-US PRESSWIRE

Hoping to capture a season-defining victory, the No. 5 Notre Dame Fighting Irish were dealt a big loss on Saturday. Running back George Atkinson III will sit out against the No. 8 Oklahoma Sooners due to illness, according to ESPN's Matt Fortuna:

Fifth-ranked Notre Dame will go into its biggest game of the season without one of its top playmakers, as George Atkinson III did not make the trip to Norman, Okla., for Saturday night's contest against No. 8 Oklahoma.

Atkinson stayed back at school because of flu-like symptoms, a source told

A sophomore, Atkinson came into Week 9 as the Irish's third-leading rusher and possibly their most explosive player on offense. 

The scintillating back has gained 301 yards on the ground on just 37 carries this season, good for an astounding 8.1 yards per carry. Behind great blocking and nifty moves, Atkinson has put up two rushing touchdowns of more than 50 yards this season as well. 

Considering the Sooners come into Saturday's contest as one of the nation's best defenses, allowing just 15.3 points per game, Atkinson's big-play ability may have proved huge for Notre Dame. 

Nevertheless, this ultimately seems like a survivable blow for the Irish. Atkinson had slowly been getting phased out of the offense of late as Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick began taking a large bulk of the carries.

The senior duo combined for 33 carries for 257 yards in last week's victory over BYU; Atkinson carried a meager five times, albeit one was for a touchdown.

With Atkinson out on Saturday night, look for Wood and Riddick to continue getting a heavy workload as Brian Kelly's squad looks to leap into the national championship conversation with a win in Norman.