The month off between playing USC and Clemson might not do anyone on the Notre Dame offense more good than converted running back Jafar Armstrong. Thrust into the starting lineup after transitioning from receiver in the spring due to the suspension of Dexter Williams and a slew of postseason departures, Armstrong started the season off on fire. A few weeks into the season though, injuries popped up and he was never quite the same in the regular season. Now rested, he could be an x-factor for the Irish offense this weekend.
Jafar Armstrong scored the first touchdown of the Irish for the Irish when he danced 13 yards in the endzone virtually untouched. He added a second touchdown versus the Wolverines as he finished with 35 yards in his collegiate debut. A week later he led Notre Dame with 66 yards on 13 carries with another 61 yards on 3 receptions. Two weeks after that he just missed his first 100 yard game of his career with 98 yards on 8 attempts with 2 TDs against Wake Forest.
Then the injury hit. On Friday night before the Stanford game, Armstrong was declared out for the game with a knee infection. A trip to the hospital and a couple minor setbacks later and his season started to unravel. He return a few weeks later with 64 yards receiving and another 52 yards on the ground, but nagging injuries from there limited his effectiveness the rest of the season.
During the first few weeks of the year when Armstrong served as Notre Dame’s defacto lead back with Dexter Williams suspended, Armstrong had a burst to him that Notre Dame lacked with Williams shelved. Since his return to the lineup, we haven’t quite seen the same burst from him.
A month off to rest and recharge should have Armstrong ready to take off again this weekend. Because he was never quite 100% after Navy we didn’t really get a chance to see much of a two back set with Armstrong and Williams – a set that should give any defense matchup problems.
With Armstrong’s skill as a receiver, he and Williams could present Clemson with some problems on Saturday. If Notre Dame lines them both up together in the backfield and then motions Armstrong out and gets him one on one with a linebacker, that is a matchup the Irish will take all day long. Chip Long also has a lot of possibilities with misdirection plays with the two in the backfield at the same time. See Armstrong’s touchdown run versus Syracuse.
We have all heard a lot about the speed of the Clemson defense and how it will supposedly overwhelm Notre Dame. Well, when the Irish have Armstrong and Williams on the field at the same time, it is not your father’s Notre Dame speedwise. Heck, it’s not even your older brother’s Notre Dame. Armstrong and Williams are both dynamic runners and playmakers who can make plays against any defense the Irish might face including Clemson.
Utilizing Armstrong in the screen game is also a way that Notre Dame might be able to slow down the Clemson pass rush just a bit. The Tigers have one of the best pass rushes in the entire country, but effective screens are a great way to neutralize a pass rush or at the very least slow it down a bit.
With Ian Book’s accuracy in the short and intermediate passing game, Armstrong’s receiving skills should be on display on Saturday and now that he’s had a month to rest and get healthy, we should be ready to see the Jafar Armstrong that had five touchdowns through the first four weeks of the season again.