Where was this running game for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the last three weeks?
Yes, they lost to the Oklahoma Sooners on Saturday, 35-21. But that can be blamed on the abundance of turnovers by the passing attack. The running game did a great job and finally showed up again with 220 yards coming from an unexpected source.
To open the season against Temple, Notre Dame was able to get 188 rushing yards by relying on a multifaceted attack in the backfield. But since that game, the Irish have only gained 96, 91 and 78 yards on the ground, forcing an unbalanced attack and creating more urgency for the passing game.
The two biggest takeaways from the battle against the Sooners are how the Irish had to cover for Tommy Rees' mistakes through the air and how George Atkinson III is going to be the true star of the rushing attack.
George Atkinson III is a rising star for the Irish and has help
George Atkinson III contributed 148 yards on 14 carries including an 80-yard sprint for a touchdown on Saturday. The junior tailback showed the ability to be the workhorse back for the Irish. But it's not like he's the only option in the backfield.
Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel looked solid early in the year as the primary backs but didn't see many carries against the Sooners. Even Tarean Folston looks like someone with the ability to create big plays, despite few carries.
But Atkinson has something the other three backs don't have—size.
He is built like a linebacker, and at 6'2", 220 pounds, he's able to bulldoze opposing defenders all day. He was only stopped once in the backfield for a loss of two yards.
Even removing the 80-yard run, he averaged 5.23 yards per carry. He's a steady, consistent running back who deserves to start for the Irish. The three smaller, quicker backs can spell him throughout the game.
Tommy Rees' mistakes will make them rely on the ground game
Tommy Rees' three interceptions doomed the Irish this week. And they all led to touchdowns for the Sooners. When you lose 35-21 like the Irish did, those interceptions get magnified and could increase the reliance on the resurgent running game.
And this could lead to a better Irish team—one that is more reliant on the run, which would be closer to how they played in the 2012 national title-losing season. The better running game will lead to more play-action passes and hopefully more points by the offense.
If Rees continues to make the same mistakes, more focus on the running game could open up the field for him deep. Or the Irish could finally burn Malik Zaire's redshirt and start him over Rees. He can't be any worse than Rees was on Saturday.
Scott Carasik is a Featured Columnist for Bleacher Report. He covers the Atlanta Falcons, NFL and NFL draft. He also runs DraftFalcons.com.
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