Attempting to assess the wreckage of a 4-8 campaign in 2016 has the Notre Dame coaching staff looking at things that actually went right and what they can improve on for the upcoming season. When it comes to offense, the hiring of the Irish’s new offensive coordinator, Chip Long, means that the running game will have a greater emphasis in the overall game plan, something likely to catch the attention of junior Josh Adams.
A Series of Hints
The game-breaking potential of Adams has periodically surfaced over the past two years and first began to take shape in November 2015. That was when he put together a trio of strong performances in which he averaged just under nine yards per carry. While that number was greatly enhanced by his electrifying 98-yard touchdown run against Wake Forest, it offers Long a key centerpiece in crafting his running attack.
Last season, Adams’ exploits were again largely limited to cameo outbursts, given Notre Dame’s emphasis on their passing attack. Averaging just over 13 carries per game, Adams still came close to breaking the 1,000-yard threshold, thanks to another strong finish, which included his career-best 180-yard performance at Southern Cal.
Touching Irish History
With Long now calling the shots and having the untested Brandon Wimbush the likely individual behind center, allowing Adams and his fellow running backs to be a central aspect of the offense can help pay dividends during the early portion of the season.
For Adams, that means that he’ll have the opportunity to methodically move up the list of all-time Irish rushers, with players like Ricky Watters and Jerome Bettis likely being bypassed during the September contests.
A similar season to Adams’ first two years in South Bend will move him within a more select group, though the expectation is that with more ball-carrying opportunities, he could reach 1,200 yards or more. Depending on the course of the Irish fortunes, he might also have the chance to add to that amount in a bowl clash.
Bigger and Better Things?
Of course, a true breakout season for Adams could be a mixed blessing for Notre Dame, since that can lay the groundwork for him to cash in by entering the NFL Draft next April. While that doesn’t necessarily put a hole in the deep Irish rushing game, it’s obvious that Brian Kelly would prefer that he stay around–something that Deshone Kizer learned.
If Adams has that big season and decides that his job isn’t finished at Notre Dame, he puts himself in position to challenge for the all-time rushing record of 4,318 that Autry Denson compiled from 1995-98. The fact that Adams, with 1,771 yards, isn’t even halfway there yet is a sign of the legacy left behind by Denson, who just happens to be the team’s current running backs coach.
One of the reasons that Adams reaching that rarefied air isn’t out of the realm of possibility is when looking at the career yards per carry for anyone above him on that all-time list. Adams has averaged 6.5 yards per carry in his two years, with the next closest in that category being Lee Becton’s 5.8 from 1991-94.
The aforementioned depth at running back for the Irish might end up being the fly in the ointment when it comes to boosting the production of Adams. Long will presumably want fresh legs in at every opportunity, which means that additional playing time for Tony Jones, Dexter Williams and even true freshman C.J. Holmes will cut into the numbers for Adams.
Still, having Adams and that contingent around can’t help but make life better for the Irish running game, which plummeted 52 spots in the national rankings from their 2015 spot. Letting Adams do his thing on a more extensive level will help offer a focus on whether stardom is in his future.