Why freshman running back Tarean Folston got the majority of carries vs. Navy could have been because he had the “hot hand” as implied by Brian Kelly, but the reason he’ll more than just belong in rotation as the Irish finish out the last three games on the their schedule will be because he’s got talent you can’t just can’t coach.
Kelly is reluctant to give Folston all kinds of credit, maybe in part because he knows how special Folston can be. Perhaps, he knows that we’ve merely seen the tip of the iceberg from the freshman in performances against Navy and Air Force.
Against Air Force, Folston carried 11 times for 47 yards. All of those carries came after Notre Dame was already ahead by two scores in the 3rd quarter.
But, in his best performance to date in an Irish uniform, Folston rushed 18 times for 140 yards and the game-winning touchdown with less than four minutes remaining.
After said performance, Folston was made available to the media. He easily drew the biggest crowd of the day, even as he stood in the back of the room to field questions.
“I just go into every week and play my hardest,” Folston said. “This is the outcome and I feel good. Everybody’s time comes, and my time came today.”
Folston’s touchdown against Navy wasn’t just proof he can deliver when the game’s on the line, but that he’s capable of stepping out of his shake-and-bake comfort zone to do whatever’s needed when called upon.
Folston didn’t have much time to react to the “mess” of big men shielding his 5-foot-10 frame from the North end zone in the fourth quarter. But, he reacted instinctively, as he decided to go airborne for the score.
“I was just reading my keys and it was a big mess so I just jumped over,” Folston said. “I’ve never dove over [offensive/defensive lines] in my life.”
Actions often speak louder than words and Kelly’s decision to hand the ball to Folston in a power running situation, rather than the obvious choice of Cam McDaniel, lends to belief that Kelly trusted Folston more than a coach just trusting a hot hand with an ability to make people miss in the open field.
On the drive prior, Folston had runs of 15, 14 and 15 yards, respectively, leading to a goal-line punch-in by McDaniel. Other than the obvious crowd-pleasing moves of jumping over linebackers and juking defensive backs, Folston did not have one negative rushing play, nor did he put the ball on the ground on Saturday.
Kelly was quick to point out Folston’s one negative play of the day, when he failed to go north-south on a 2nd-and-1, even though he still picked up the first down.
“There was only one run that I did not like, where he did not go north and south, bounced one out on the left side, and still got the first down, but we want to keep it going north and south. And we're looking for guys to go north and south and make people miss, and I think if you look at all his runs, he by and large did that.”
Kelly also spoke to why Folston wasn’t more heavily in the mix earlier this season, saying his conditioning wasn’t up to par for a significant number of carries, and on Tuesday, telling the media that Folston was slowed by an injury suffered in fall camp.
“He was not a hundred percent earlier in the year,” Kelly said. “He had a severe calf strain coming into camp which hampered him probably the first three or four weeks. Then he had a hip flexor where he was not a hundred percent. Then you saw he had a little bit of a hamstring. So he was battling some soft tissue injuries.”
If this is Folston rounding third on being healthy and in optimal condition, bring on home base.