SOUTH BEND – George Atkinson III wasn’t giving Notre Dame what it needed, so coach Brian Kelly made sure the running back saw exactly what was required of him.
The 6-foot-1, 220-pound junior was subjected to image after image of how he was allowing himself to be tackled too easily.
It got to the point where we had to physically sit him down and show him clip after clip after clip, coach Brian Kelly said. These are tackles that you must run through. They can’t tackle you. You’re 220 pounds.
And I think that constant coaching and teaching and showing, he then convinced himself that, well, what coach is actually saying, I think I believe that now, and then he believed it and then he did it.
The result of the film work was positive.
Atkinson invigorated a dormant running game in the Irish’s 35-21 loss to No. 11 Oklahoma on Saturday.
He ran for 148 of the Irish’s 220 rushing yards against the Sooners and scored on an 80-yard run in the third quarter.
It helped a lot, Atkinson said of sitting down and watching the clips of tackles he should have broken.
(Running backs coach Tony) Alford does a good job of that as well in practice, telling us how he wants us to run. We are just going to continue that and evaluate ourselves and get better each week.
Atkinson’s performance will need to be duplicated this Saturday when the Irish (3-2) take on No. 22 Arizona State (3-1) in the Dallas Cowboys’ AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas. This is the fifth installment of Notre Dame’s Shamrock Series, which takes one home game each season to an off-campus stadium.
The Irish will likely duplicate the two-tight end sets that worked well against Oklahoma. Atkinson’s 80-yard touchdown run, and Tarean Folston’s 36-yard run in the first quarter came with two tight ends on the field.
It is always good to have Troy (Niklas) and Ben (Koyack) and Alex (Welch) on the edge, running back Cam McDaniel said. They do a great job; very talented guys. That is nice.
But as well as Atkinson performed last week, especially in two-tight end sets, that doesn’t prove he is the Irish’s go-to running back the rest of the season.
He still has to prove he can perform in every game as he did against the Sooners as he tries to separate himself from juniors Amir Carlisle and McDaniel as well as freshmen Greg Bryant and Folston.
If we can get that on a consistent basis, we’ve got a very talented player on our hands, Kelly said of Atkinson.
Atkinson had run for only 121 yards on 24 carries before last weekend pushed him to 269 yards on 38 carries for the season. He is now the Irish’s leader in rushing yards and second in attempts.
McDaniel leads the team in carries with 48 and has gained 177 yards. Carlisle has run for 170 yards on 36 carries. Folston has gained 69 yards on 11 carries, and Bryant, who missed the Oklahoma game with a knee injury, has run for 14 yards on three carries.
You create that type of expectation every week, regardless of who you are playing or whatever, Atkinson said. It was a big game, and it is in the past now. There is nothing I can do about it. I need to come out the next week and try to do the same and do better.