SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame running back Cierre Woods first carry of the season didnt go as planned.
After sitting out the first two games because of violation of team rules, the 6-foot, 215-pound senior was dropped for a 1-yard loss 40 seconds into Saturdays 20-3 road win over Michigan State.
Wood shook off the setback, and he finished with a team-high 56 rushing yards on 10 carries as the No. 11 Irish, who play host to No. 18 Michigan (2-1) on Saturday night, improved to 3-0. He also learned how to cope with sharing the ball with running backs Theo Riddick and George Atkinson III.
In my mind Ive changed up how I approach each carry, Wood said. My reads have to be perfect. My steps have to be perfect. Because basically Im trying to make every play a big play, given the fact we come in so sporadically. Its going to be hard, but I know I can do it.
Wood was at his best in the fourth quarter Saturday when the Irish were at their 4-yard line while leading 14-3 with 12:56 to play.
Wood took the handoff in his end zone on the first play of the drive, dashed right and picked up 9 yards. On the next play, Wood took the handoff and started to run left then cut back to his right and completed a 26-yard run by tossing Michigan State cornerback Johnny Adams to the ground with a stiff-arm before running out of bounds.
I was excited. There was no doubt in my mind that we were going to come out of our end zone, Wood said of the two fourth-quarter runs. I just wanted them to give me the ball. They gave me the ball, and they seen what happened.
Wood carried the ball three more times on that drive, gaining 10 yards, to help set up Kyle Brindzas 27-yard field and give the Irish a 17-3 lead with 6:21 to play.
He had fresh legs, Kelly said of the reliance on Wood early in the fourth quarter. He didnt have a lot of carries leading up to the later carries that he got. He was aggressive; he was physical. He played like a guy who had a couple weeks off, and I think that depth at running back is going to allow us to keep turning those guys in and have four quarters of physical play at the running back position.
Notre Dame used all of its running back depth in Saturdays victory. Riddick, who ran for 160 yards and two touchdowns in the first two games, had 12 carries for 30 yards, and Atkinson, who ran for 99 yards and two scores in the 50-10 season-opening win against Navy, gained 43 yards on five carries.
It is the kind of three-back attack the Irish expected to start the season with before Wood, who ran for 1,102 yards with nine touchdowns last season, was suspended for the opening games. And Riddick is thrilled to have his classmate back.
It helps us out a lot, Riddick said. (Wood) is very explosive and is a great talent. Thats one of my best friends. To have him back, I was happy for him.