“Next Man In” has been a cliche around Notre Dame for much of Brian Kelly’s tenure in South Bend. In 2015, however, it has become a way of life as injuries have mounted but wins have continued to roll in. Unheralded freshman running Josh Adams became the latest “next man in” this past weekend and early returns suggest he might be a whole lot more.
When CJ Prosise trotted off to the visitors locker room with the Notre Dame training staff, Notre Dame fans around the country grimaced and were holding their. Enter Josh Adams – the three star recruit who scored a touchdown on the first carry of his collegiate career earlier this year. Adams filled in for Notre Dame’s star running back and the Irish hardly missed a beat.
Against a tough Pitt defense, Adams ran the ball 20 times for 147 yards – one shy of the Notre Dame freshman running back record – while adding a five yard receiving touchdown on a play that was a run for all intents and purposes but technically registered as a pass from Deshone Kizer – Kizer’s 5th of the game.
It wasn’t just Adams’ stats that were impressive though, it was how he gained the yards he did. In his previous appearances, Adams made some big plays but did so mainly through some massive holes or with pure speed. When he ran untouched 25 yards in the second half against Texas, the offensive line created a hole that a truck could have driven through. Against UMass when Adams ran the ball 13 times for 133 yards, he raced 70 yards to the endzone primarily with pure speed.
Against Pitt, Adams had some holes to run through but he also displayed the kind of vision that we hadn’t seen from him to date. On a few occasions Adams got the ball and either reversed field and ran to daylight or displayed patience in waiting for a hole to open before hitting it. He also gained a lot of his yards right through the heart of the Pitt defense with tough runs where he refused to be be tackled.
With CJ Prosise running through Notre Dame’s concussion protocol following the Pitt game, Adams workload figures to be heavy again this coming weekend. I’m sure Brian Kelly will have a more official update on Prosise’s status, but considering Brian Kelly was already concerned enough about Prosise’s long-term health this season that he put a red jersey on him in practice a few weeks back, it would be a shock to me if Prosise played this weekend unless absolutely necessary.
Wake Forest is coming to town this weekend with 3-6 record, Notre Dame can afford to be cautious with Prosise – especially since Adams showed on Saturday that he is more than capable of being the top back both in terms of running the ball and the other areas of the game such as run blocking – an area he’s worked on since arriving on campus.
“I just think he came with a pretty good understanding. In high school he was asked to block. His system had the runningback as part of protections, so he had a little bit of that,” Brian Kelly said on Sunday. “Then, you know, he’s a pretty sharp kid, pretty smart kid. Savvy, understands things. Actually had a nice blitz pickup for us in the game as well.”
With Saturday’s performance, Adams now has 412 yards on 54 carries for a gaudy 7.6 yards per carry average and four total touchdowns. With four games left, Adams likely won’t challenge Darius Walker’s freshman record of 786 yards (he would need 375 yards to pass him), but after Saturday’s showing, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he challenged that single game record currently owned by Jerome Heavens this weekend if Kelly and staff decide to rest Prosise for the stretch run.
Add it all up and Adams is line for not only more carries this weekend, but through the rest of the season. Brain Kelly agrees. “I think he proved to everybody that he’s capable against a very good defense in Pittsburgh of getting deserved carries, earned carries. He earned that opportunity in this game, ” he said on Sunday. “I think he can lessen the load for C.J. and provide us with another option in there, as well. I would agree that he earned that this weekend.”
Not bad for a freshman who Rivals and ESPN both rated as a 3-star recruit. Next man in indeed.