SOUTH BEND, Ind. — C.J. Prosise is still adapting to life with a target on his back.
The redshirt junior slot-receiver-turned-running-back was stuffed for only 25 yards on 14 carries in Notre Dame’s 24-20 win over Temple last weekend and caught five passes for 43 yards. It was his first game with fewer than 100 total yards — even when Clemson stacked the box and limited him to 50 yards on 15 carries Oct. 3, he caught four passes for 100 yards — since 2014's regular season-ending blowout defeat at USC.
“It’s a learning experience for me and it’s a different type of game,” Prosise said. “They weren’t going to let me do the things that I’ve been doing. They loaded the box, of course, and I’m going to have games like that where I have to go in there, lower my pads and get whatever I can get.”
The lesson for Prosise, who’s still averaging 6.6 yards per carry, was obvious upon returning from Philadelphia: Not every play can get a big one. In his previous seven games, Prosise’s longest run or reception went for 21, 25, 91, 57, 56, 25 and 31 yards. Against Temple, his longest run was 12 yards and his longest reception picked up 14.
“The development of a first-year running back, there are different things he's going to see,” coach Brian Kelly said. “I think the one thing he saw is that not every play can be a 30-yard gain. Three yards, four yards sometimes is a good play. Putting your head down, being physical I think is what he learned in this game.
“I thought it was a great learning tool for him as to how to run in terms of certain plays are going to be not as clean as others. You've got to make something happen at the point of attack by lowering your shoulders and showing some physicality. I think he learned a lot.”
While explosive plays have come naturally to Prosise, he’s struggled in short-yardage situations. He and Notre Dame ball carriers are being stuffed for zero or negative yards on two of every nine rushing attempts, ranking the Irish 104th among FBS teams. In situations where two or fewer yards are necessary on third or fourth down to pick up a first down, or on any goal-line play inside the two-yard line, Notre Dame is only gaining the necessary yardage two out of every three times, 69th nationally.
Temple’s rock-solid defense only made those short-yardage issues worse. Prosise was stuffed for no gain or a loss on six of his 14 rushing attempts.
“There were a couple times I let one guy tackle me, and that’s something I never want to have happen,” Prosise said. “In open field, I gotta be better, and then instead of dancing so much, I gotta get upfield and get whatever yards I can.”
The good news for Prosise is while Pitt’s defense is decent in short-yardage situations, it’s allowed plenty of explosive running plays. In their first eight games, the Panthers allowed 15 rushing plays of 20 or more yards — the same total as Notre Dame, ranking 95th — and six runs of 50 or more yards, tied for the third-highest total at the FBS level.
Temple, on the other hand, allowed fewer than 79 total rushing yards — which quarterback DeShone Kizer galloped on a touchdown run Saturday — in four of its games this year.
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Still, the message is clear for Prosise. If the big plays aren’t there, he’ll have to grind out a couple of yards to avoid those zero-sum or negative carries.
“It’s tough because you want to make something happen, you want to have a big play happen for you, especially in a close game like that (at Temple) I want to be the spark for the offense,” Prosise said. “But I just gotta learn from it and I gotta keep pounding it and something will open up.”