SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Nearly every one of Tarean Folston’s offensive teammates came over to console him at the trainer’s table on the Irish sideline Saturday night.
Folston was on his back getting his knee wrapped up after suffering an injury in the first quarter. He sat there with a towel over his head and as he ambled off the field into the locker room put his helmet on, again receiving slaps on the back and embraces from teammates.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly didn’t have an update on Folston’s injury after the game, but the junior running back was seen on crutches celebrating with his teammates after the Irish finished off a 38-3 win over the Texas Longhorns. One of the reasons why Notre Dame cruised to a five-touchdown victory was the performance of the two guys who replaced Folston in the Irish offense.
“I definitely had to let him know I’m here for him and I’m playing for him now,” senior running back C.J. Prosise said. “Everything I (did was) to be to play for him and to play as hard as I can.”
Prosise, in his first game since converting from slot receiver to running back during spring practice, carried 20 times for 98 yards. He ran with a kind of physicality and toughness you’d expect from a seasoned running back, not someone taking regular handoffs in a game for the first time in his football career.
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Coach Brian Kelly wasn’t surprised by Prosise’s tough running, though, given what he saw immediately after bumping the Virginia native into the backfield six months ago.
“My experience told me that if a guy naturally, instinctively wants to run inside, you can teach him the other things,” Kelly said. “There's other things that we've got to teach him, some of the other things in the offense. He thought he was going to get a different kind of handoff one times and a couple things with protection. But he's a big kid, athletic, strong. He's not afraid. He's a veteran and I think he showed that tonight.”
Prosise is in his third year as part of Notre Dame’s offense (he came to South Bend as a safety and moved to receiver before his sophomore year), so he earns that veteran designation. He admitted running between the tackles is new to him, but he handled his increased workload well.
But with Prosise moving up to earn No. 1 running back duties, someone had to step in behind him. Enter true freshman Josh Adams, who instantly made an impact on the first play of his college career, dashing 14 yards into the end zone to give the Irish a two-touchdown lead late in the first quarter.
Adams was the less-hyped running back in Notre Dame’s 2015 recruiting class, earning a three-star rating from Rivals while Florida native Dexter Williams was a four-star recruit and rated as the 120th best player nationally in February’s signing class. But the lightning-quick 6-foot-1, 212-pound Adams impressed coaches during August with his knack for picking up assignments in pass protection, which is why he earned five carries for 49 yards and two touchdowns (the other was a 16-yarder in the third quarter) on Saturday.
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“Any time when a freshman can come in and pick up all the protections early on, it's been my feeling that he's ready to play, provided he's got the skill and also what kind of skill he has,” Kelly said. “We felt like he was a kid that was under the radar last year. He had a knee injury that kind of took him off the radar a little bit. But he's just scratching the surface. He's got elite speed. He's got great size. Got good ball skills and obviously he's a kid that we believe in.”
While Malik Zaire made headlines with 19 completions on 22 attempts, 313 yards and three touchdowns, Notre Dame’s offense still leaned on the run. Before the second-team offense (led by redshirt freshman quarterback DeShone Kizer) entered the game with 10:55 left in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame attempted 22 passes and 40 runs. That’s the kind of distribution Kelly & Co. want.
Coaches and players will hold their breath hoping for good news on Folston’s knee, but in his absence, they still were able to execute their gameplan thanks to the strong showings from Prosise and Adams. Losing Folston one quarter into the season would nonetheless be a big blow, but if Saturday’s blood-letting of Texas was any indication, Prosise and Adams can soften that blow.