The Notre Dame Fighting Irish has struggled to find a running game, especially in the last two games against the Michigan Wolverines and Purdue Boilermakers. Things aren’t expected to get any easier this weekend, as the Irish play host to the nation’s leading defense, the Michigan State Spartans.
Through three games, the Spartans have allowed a stingy 177 yards of total offense per game. Among that, only 50.3 per game have been on the ground. Purdue has allowed 117 yards rushing per game and only 3.3 yards per rush. Michigan State stands at an absurd 1.8 yards per carry.
With an extremely physical game expected, Head coach Brian Kelly will need a running back more than willing to lower his shoulder and lay the hammer on the defenders, even if it is for only a marginal gain. Who among the Irish running backs could handle that duty? After carrying the ball 16 times against Purdue, junior running back Cam McDaniel could find himself atop the running back rotation once again if the Irish choose to challenge the Spartan run defense.
Gauging by the first three games, he would be more than up for the challenge. Described as a passionate ‘football player’ by Kelly, McDaniel’s ability to attack the line of scrimmage could prove very useful for a team that has struggled with being too one-dimensional in the previous two game.
It’s not likely an ideal game to try to establish the run game, but with facing experienced Spartan secondary, it will be essential for the Irish to get some sort of a run game going to at least keep some balance in the game and make it to where the Spartans won’t drop six, or possibly seven, into coverage. If Tommy Rees has to drop back 40-50 times again this week, you can almost be certain that the secondary will give him fits.
If the Irish can make them respect the running game, that could open up more one-on-one opportunities for the Irish’s biggest playmakers, T.J. Jones and DaVaris Daniels. I know Kelly is probably loving the ability to use three different backs with three different skill sets, but the problem in the previous two games has been the opposing team out-muscling the Irish. They were able to overcome it against Purdue, but they won’t be able to do the same against Michigan State.
McDaniel has the ability to go out there and throw that first punch, physicality-wise, so let him, again and again.