Notre Dame running backs break out in a big way

Notre Dame running backs break out in a big way
October 7, 2012, 5:16 am
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Cierre Wood's not going to go ahead and paraphrase Keyshawn Johnson, but he just wants the damn ball.

On Saturday, he got the damn ball 18 times on the ground and rushed for a season-high 118 yards and two touchdowns. Most of that production came in the second half, as Notre Dame repeatedly punched Miami in the mouth in a 41-3 win over the Hurricanes at Soldier Field.

"I was past overdue," Wood said. "When I say it's just a matter of when I get the ball and stuff like that, I know I can ball out and I can make plays almost every play. It's just a matter of when the opportunity presents itself."

Wood finally got that opportunity on Saturday to show why he led Notre Dame in rushing last year. He was suspended for the first two weeks of the season, and only carried the ball 17 times in the next two games.

Part of Wood getting a shot on Saturday had to do with starter Theo Riddick suffering a bruised elbow. But more so, Wood's 18 carries were the product of something the coaching staff saw.

"We go with the guy that's running well," Kelly explained. "He did a great job on one of his runs where he showed great patience, stepped on the heals of the guard and bent it back. He had not done that this year."

Wood wasn't getting opportunities through most of the first half, though. At halftime, Wood had rushed four times -- the same number as George Atkinson III and one fewer than Riddick. But Wood's a guy who believes he's at his best when his workload is increased. He just hadn't earned that workload yet, at least in the eyes of the coaching staff.

"Just given the fact that opportunities are real small because we come in so sporadically and stuff like that, once I got handed the ball three, four times in a row, something's bound to happen," Wood said. "It's all a credit to my line, they blocked everything to a T. I just made the cuts and do what I do best."

While Riddick's night was fairly muted -- only five carries for 21 yards -- Atkinson went off, too, rushing 10 times for 123 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown scamper. Once again, though, Tyler Eifert was held largely out of Notre Dame's passing equation, with last year's FBS receptions leader among tight ends reeling in only two catches.

Miami, like Michigan State and Michigan, rolled its pass coverage toward Eifert in an effort to neutralize him in Notre Dame's passing game. And while neither of Notre Dame's last two opponents really got burned for it, Miami wasn't as lucky.

"When they try to double Eifert, that just brings people out of the box and that just opens up more lanes for us to run," Wood said. "It's just really, pick their poison."

With Wood and Atkinson running so well there was no second-half surge for Miami, which could barely get its offense on the field in the third and fourth quarters. And with Stephen Morris being increasingly hurried and his wide receivers dropping passes left and right, it was a perfect recipe for a Notre Dame blowout.

"They were all upbeat and jumping and stuff in the beginning, but you smack a team so many times in the mouth, eventually they're going to want to stop playing," Wood said. "And that's what happened today."