After two weeks, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly doesn't feel one of his running backs has emerged as a No. 1 guy. But if a player is to break into that role, Amir Carlisle appears to have the best chance.
Against Temple, Carlisle had seven carries for 68 yards, and followed that with 12 carries and 64 yards against Michigan. Compare that to the totals for George Atkinson (eight and five) and Cam McDaniel (12 and one), and it looks like Carlisle is the top option. But Kelly cautioned after Saturday's 41-30 loss in Ann Arbor that it's too early to make that claim, and that there's plenty of room for improvement.
Carlisle did drop a pass against Michigan, although Atkinson had a couple passes slip through his hands. While Carlisle has been used in the slot a bit, pass-catching hasn't been a strong suit of Atkinson.
"He's got to stand next to me on the sideline, so he's either got to catch the football or he doesn't get scripted in those plays," Kelly said. "George understands that if he's going to be in the game, he's got to run the right route. He's got to catch the football."
Kelly said Carlisle has work to do in that pass-catching regard, too, but his skill in that area trumps Atkinson's, so it's not too surprising he's garnered more touches.
"We can't make them one‑dimensional," Kelly said. "They've got to be able to do all those jobs."
It's worth noting, too, that McDaniel only had one carry and wasn't in the backfield a whole lot against Michigan. That doesn't mean his role is guaranteed to be decreased going forward, but the circumstances in Ann Arbor weren't great for his use. At his best, McDaniel is a tough, durable runner who's a good piece to have for closing out games -- which would explain why he got a dozen carries as Notre Dame cruised to a 22-point win over Temple. But when playing from behind, Notre Dame turned to its most explosive backs in Atkinson and Carlisle.
Freshman Greg Bryant got in to Saturday's game while Tarean Folston didn't. Both had garbage-time carries against Temple, although as each player gains a greater understanding of the offense the chance one cracks the running back rotation grows.