Notre Dame Football: Making the Case for Tarean Folston as Irish's No. 1 RB

Connor KillorenSenior Analyst INovember 14, 2013

Seemingly lost amidst the never-ending shuffle within the running back position at Notre Dame has been an answer.

The position becoming mired in uncertainty has been an unquestionable byproduct of head coach Brian Kelly's confounding desire to play each of his available running backs rather than settle on a defined pecking order.

George Atkinson III, Amir Carlisle, Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston have played what appears to be a perplexing game of musical chairs.

But there has existed a solution to the dilemma all along: Folston, a 5'10", 207-pound freshman who was as coveted a running back prospect as any in the 2013 class. The former 4-star prospect, per, was relegated to the bench for the majority of the first half of the regular season despite his lofty recruitment billing—the Cocoa, Fla., native carried the ball just 11 times for 59 yards in the Irish's first seven games.

But during a 45-10 thrashing of Air Force in Colorado Springs, Colo., Folston nearly eclipsed his season total for both carries and yards, receiving 11 carries for 47 yards against the Falcons.

Nov 9, 2013; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Brian Kelly prepares to lead his team onto the field for the second half agains the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field. Pitt won 28-21. Mandatory Credit: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

The electrifying back improved upon that performance and proved his worth the following week against Navy, earning his first career touchdown while finishing as the game's leading rusher (140 yards on 18 carries).

But the rapid progress Folston was making was severely mitigated during an ugly 28-21 loss at Pittsburgh last week, forcing him back to his minimal role of old; the freshman was brought off the bench just four times, resulting in a pedestrian 13 rushing yards.

And it's not as if Folston's carries were limited due to the circumstances of the game, as the Irish didn't trail until the 9:36 mark of the fourth quarter.

I know what some may be thinking: Folson's career day two weeks ago was against a service academy defense. But I challenge you with the fact that Pittsburgh ranks 65th nationally in rushing defense, allowing an average of 161.1 yards per game on the ground.

Thus, Folston's relative absence from the loss to the Panthers was dumbfounding.

As with any young player, it's paramount for Folston to develop consistently from week-to-week, rather than going back and forth between a hefty number of live reps and long stretches spent taking mental reps on the sideline.

Adding to the confusion are the other options at the position.

Atkinson III has consistently proven his only value is that of an occasional home run hitter who fails to run with a low pad level and shies away from contact. Amir Carlisle has been a gifted enigma. Aside from Folston, the only truly reliable back this season has been Cam McDaniel.

So, what's stopping the coaching staff from giving Folston a chance to truly claim the No. 1 running back?

The answer remains a mystery, though the answer to the coaching staff is simple: Folston.