-- Irish running back Cam McDaniel
McDaniel was asked directly if getting into a rhythm is difficult as a member of a multi-competitor Irish backfield, and in an offense that averages just 31 rushes per game.
Predictably, McDaniel, as well as his fellow junior runners George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle took the high road with each inquiry, noting that while more work is desired, it's apparent that opportunity might vary by player each week.
"Sure its tough sometimes because we all want to contribute to the win," McDaniel said prior to an October 5 battle with Arizona State. "Last week (Oklahoma), George got the majority of the carries and we lost. Obviously that's a double frustration, but he was producing. You just have to take advantage of your opportunities when you get them."
Atkinson's best career game (14 carries, 148 yards including an 80-yard touchdown) doubtless contributed to his increased opportunity vs. the Sooners. The team's technical starter, Atkinson had nonetheless carried just 16 time in the previous three outings prior to that September 28 contest in South Bend. Also notable from that outing: Atkinson didn't start vs. the Sooners, giving way to classmate Amir Carlisle.
"You have to just keep your mind in the game," Carlisle said of occasional time spent watching others carry the load. "Sometimes you might get cold on the sidelines but you just have to stay locked into it mentally and always be ready when your number is called. Always be ready to go in there and make plays. For me, when George or Cam is out there, I' rooting for my guys. When my number is called, I give my all, play for God's glory, and try to make plays for the team."
Carlisle's best came early, with 30 carries over the first three weeks, just eight since. Though he's spent more time slotted as a receiver than as a solo 'back in recent games, all of Carlisle's seven receptions occurred in the opening trio of contests as well.
"The more you can do, the more options the coaches have to get you on the field," said Carlisle. "I'm trying to be the most versatile I can be. Wherever I can help this team is where I'm willing to play."
Four to Make Three?McDaniel has led the unit in carries in three contests and in rushing yards on three occasions -- two of which came when he didn't lead the group in carries. Atkinson has earned the most rushes twice, both in the last two games, leading in yardage only vs. the Sooners. Carlisle led the team in rushing in the opener, in carries in Game Two at Michigan, and has more pass targets, 14, than the rest of the backfield including freshman Tarean Folston, combined (12).
If the last two games are any indication, Atkinson and McDaniel will enter Saturday night's contest vs. rival USC as the two lead runners. Carlisle and Folston will thus have to make the most of early chances to gain later opportunities.
The latter is a challenge for most 'backs, that, to a man, note rhythm is crucial to a runner's success over a 60-minute contest.
"It's a major difference," said Atkinson when asked to compare running five times vs. 15. "The one bad run you have with the five carries is going to stick out like a sore thumb. You have 15, and you're not really going to see that bad carry.
"Regardless, you have to eliminate the bad carries," he admitted.
The backfield quartet will be hard-pressed to contribute in unison Saturday night and in most of the five remaining games thereafter. And even if the offense increases its rushing output from 31.5 per contest to the neighborhood of 40 carries per game (the Irish hit 39 or more in eight games last season), that nine-carry increase will likely impact one from the Carlisle/Folston paring, with a smattering more going to the Atkinson/McDaniel tandem as well.
Thus, three engaged runners per contest seems viable; the "hot-hand" getting the call in a particular week, aided by the remaining pair. A fourth can infiltrate that group, but likely at the expense of another.
Notre Dame isn't Navy or Georgia Tech or 2012 Oregon -- they have to pass to beat teams on their schedule. But running more is recommended (and proven as an indicator of Irish success), and the continued immersion of Folston as a fourth is a development that could aid the offense as a whole through Thanksgiving.
"I think if it changes the game in any way it's that you've always got somebody," McDaniel said in reference to a fresh runner. "You'll see it on a big run sometimes, like when Tarean had a 36-yard run, I went in to finish it off. After a long run, why run a guy fully gassed like that when you can throw in someone else fully capable as well?"
Asked if he "runs harder" when kept fresh, or if he runs harder when he gets in a rhythm as the carries pile up, McDaniel quickly offered, "I always run as hard as I can."
Rhythm worth emulating across the board.