Notre Dame Football: Just How Good Is This Irish Offensive Backfield?
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Notre Dame had plenty of question marks entering Brian Kelly's second season on the sideline.
Who will be the quarterback? What wide receiver will draw attention away from Michael Floyd? Whose going to provide depth in the secondary?
While these are all questions that have been filled with somewhat definite answers, one specific question has been filled with a loud statement: Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood have done more than what was expected out of this offensive backfield.
Wood, still a sophomore with plenty of room still to grow, has shown explosiveness and consistency—areas Kelly said he needed to improve on in the offseason. With his 5.8 yards per carry average, along with six touchdowns on the ground, the talented feature back is becoming one of the better backs in his class on a national level.
The even more surprising commodity of the two is the senior who has gotten off to a career-best start—fumble against South Florida or not. Gray, who sought out advice from Jerome Bettis at a fantasy camp this past summer, has done exactly what was asked of him thus far.
A revamped running-style that caters to his skill-set now has his numbers (8.4 YPC, four touchdowns) looking like a potential NFL draft pick's.
The unit may only be 30th in the country in rushing yards per game, but there is little doubt about how good this rushing attack is in 2011. Compared to past years, Notre Dame fans now know how valuable a healthy and producing backfield can be.
In direct result of the improvement from Gray and Wood, the offense is running smoothly and quickly-exactly how a Kelly offense should be run.
Floyd and the rest of the receivers, including highly-targeted tight end Tyler Eifert, have benefited greatly from the threats on the ground. Opposing defenses, unlike in the past few years, now must face more than one serious offensive option.
Throw in option-quarterback Andrew Hendrix, and this offense, as a whole, has just begun to scratch the surface of its potential.
Although it took the first half of the season for the Irish to fully get their offense tuned-up and running, there shouldn't be too many bumps along the rest of the road—especially if turnovers are kept to a minimum.
The momentum will need to keep rolling against USC and continue to play at a high level all the way to the end of the season, leading up to the potentially huge season closer with Stanford.
For now, Kelly has his fingers crossed that his rushing-attack duo can grind out the rest of the season in the same way they started. More importantly, the team needs both backs to stay healthy as well.
Wood and Gray have a large say in just how far this team goes. They are confident, producing and the chemistry is clicking more than ever.
If, and only if, the production stays the same, or even gets progressively better for that matter, Notre Dame has as good of a shot as anyone at being a BCS-bound team.
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