Oklahoma Sooners: George Atkinson

ND run game still trying to get going

September, 25, 2013
9/25/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly might have inadvertently left Greg Bryant out of the running back rotation when he said Sunday that Notre Dame was rotating four men in the backfield. But the Irish coach said Tuesday that the highly-touted freshmen still factors into the running game moving forward.

"We just got to four. I'd like to get to five," Kelly said. "Greg certainly has a skill set that we just haven't gotten into the game yet. But again, we're trying to get him in on special teams. He's on kickoff right now. We're trying to get him involved in some of the other running teams. But we got to four, we're trying to get to five."

Notre Dame's run-game struggles have been no secret this season, as the Irish have not eclipsed the 100-yard mark as a team since the opener against Temple. Bryant received two of his three carries on the season late in that game, tallying 12 yards. He then rushed once in the first quarter against Purdue for two yards, and received no carries in the Irish's second and fourth games.

The four-star recruit from Delray Beach, Fla., was ESPN's No. 2 running back prospect last season, and he had initially committed to the school he will face this week, Oklahoma.

"It's about scripting five and trying to get five into the game more than anything else," Kelly said of the 5-foot-10, 204-pound Bryant. "We have him scripted into certain plays, it's just really the flow of the game and the circumstances in trying to get him in."

Fellow Florida freshman back Tarean Folston, ESPN's No. 6 player at the position last season, received three straight carries during one drive Saturday against Michigan State, tallying nine yards. He has nine carries on the season for 26 yards, to go with a nine-yard catch.

All five running backs are listed as co-starters on this week's depth chart. Cam McDaniel's 45 carries for 169 yards both lead the team, with much of his work coming in late-game situations with the Irish trying to run the clock out. McDaniel received Notre Dame's final 12 carries Saturday.

George Atkinson III, the front-runner for the No. 1 spot heading into the season, has 24 carries for 121 yards, trailing Amir Carlisle's 33 carries for 157 yards.

Notre Dame is averaging just 114.3 rushing yards per game, 99th in the nation. Its offensive line, however, has surrendered just three sacks on the season.

"There are so many factors to that," Kelly said of the difference in pass- and run-blocking. "They're blocking the five guys that they're supposed to block pretty good. There are times when obviously we need to be better at it. We have to block seven and eight, and we've got to get better at that. But they're doing a great job in pass protection. We need to do a much better job as a unit, as a whole, and that's not just the offensive line, that's everybody, coaches and tight ends included, in blocking the whole play."

George Atkinson III out vs. Sooners

October, 27, 2012
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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 ESPN.com.

To read the full story, click here.

Ground game carrying Irish offense

October, 25, 2012
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame three years ago with a spread attack predicated upon strong quarterback play. Naturally, it's his rushing game that has the Irish knocking on the door of the national title picture going into Saturday's game at Oklahoma.

"I think as we went through the spring it became pretty apparent to me that the success of our offense was going to be predicated on what we could do up front and running the football," Kelly said. "I think it started to emerge in all of our coaches' minds that it was going to be a runfirst kind of offense and still spread the field, still be able to attack."

Notre Dame more than held its own on the ground the past two weeks in victories over Stanford and BYU, the nation's fourth- and eighth-best rushing defenses, respectively. The Irish carried the ball 44 and 43 times for 150 and 270 yards in those games, and now they are hoping that formula serves them well in their toughest test to date.

"Obviously when you run the ball it's a lot easier on the offense," Theo Riddick said. "You can do a lot of play-action, there's a lot of things you can do when you run the ball well. So obviously that's the key in terms of our success right now and we just want to continue it."

[+] EnlargeGeorge Atkinson III, Theo Riddick
Robin Alam/Icon SMIGeorge Atkinson III (4) celebrates with Theo Riddick after scoring Notre Dame's winning TD against BYU.
A 55-yard run late in the third quarter highlighted Riddick's career-best 143-yard performance Saturday. Kelly said afterward that, despite a 14-7 deficit and an offense struggling to move the ball through the air, his players knew the blueprint would eventually carry them to the win.

The Irish attempted only three passes in the second half against BYU. Against Miami two weeks earlier, Notre Dame turned a 13-3 halftime lead into a 31-point advantage 15 minutes later on the backs of a ground game that ran the ball on 19 of the team's 21 third-quarter plays, amassing 197 yards during that period alone.

Recruited as a running back, moved to slot receiver for the better part of two years and now in a hybrid role for his senior campaign, Riddick leads the Irish in carries (95) and rushing yards (451) this season, while his 20 catches rank second on the team.

"I think it's rare because he was flipped from being a running back to a wide receiver and had to be brought back to where his natural position is," Kelly said of the successful transition. "I don't think it's unusual, because his body type was really more suited for the position. We were in a different place in our program where we needed somebody to get out on the perimeter and give us that play. So his body type is such that he could be a physical player. I think now that he's at that running back position, he is in the right place."

Notre Dame had two 100-yard rushers Saturday for the second time this season, with Cierre Wood breaking the century mark against BYU and Miami and George Atkinson III joining him against the Hurricanes. The versatility presented with a returning 1,000-yard back (Wood), a former slot man (Riddick) and a home run threat (Atkinson) helps keep defenses honest.

That dynamic may never be more important than Saturday night, when the Irish hope to pull the upset and get to 8-0.

"They have a great front four, they stop the run very well," Riddick said of the 5-1 Sooners. "They have real good, big D-tackles, so we have our hands full. But coming into a game it's always 50-50. That's how we look at it. Not to be redundant by any means, but we're looking forward toward this challenge."

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