Notre Dame’s running game is tough to stop right now

Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer and RB C.J. Prosise wrought havoc on the USC defense in the Irish's 41-31 win.

| 2 years ago
(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

(AP Photo/Jeff Haynes)

Notre Dame’s running game is tough to stop right now

Notre Dame prevailed over USC in a tight game Saturday that ultimately came down to which team made more mistakes. And the biggest mistakes USC made were in defending the run, especially when it came to the threat of Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer.

While running back C.J. Prosise, in particular, gave the Trojans’ defense more than enough to concern itself with, they seemed to completely switch off when it came to defending the quarterback.

Kizer carried the ball 10 times in the game (ignoring the kneel down) and gained 73 yards on those carries. All but one of those carries was a designed run, and not a case of him breaking the pocket and scrambling for yardage on a pass play.

On multiple occasions in the game, the USC defense looked like they simply weren’t accounting for the idea that the quarterback might pull the ball and carry it himself. On multiple occasions, Notre Dame ran a simple inside zone play with a read-option built in for Kizer, allowing him to read the backside collapse from the defense and either hand the ball off or keep it himself. USC simply had nobody assigned to the keeper, and with Prosise gashing them on the ground, were crashing down inside. On six carries off either end of the line of scrimmage, Kiser notched 34 yards, picking up easy yardage because the USC defense just wasn’t defending it.

To be fair to the Trojans, they had every reason to focus to some degree on Prosise, who had a fantastic game (earning a +4.7 grade that’s tough to achieve for a running back). Prosise forced nine missed tackles on his 19 carries and gained 66 yards after contact. On nine carries right up the gut (either side of center), Prosise gained 85 yards, forcing three of his nine missed tackles.

The Notre Dame offensive line continually beat the USC defense, with Nick Martin in particular having a fine game as a run blocker, and that led to some space for all of the Irish ball-carriers to have success on the ground. What they did with the ball in hand once they found space, however, was add significant value to those runs. USC’s decision to only defend one half of the read option only put a cherry on top of the cake.

| Senior Analyst

Sam is a Senior Analyst at Pro Football Focus, as well as a contributor to ESPN and NBCSports.

  • The QCT

    Not for the one of the nations best defenses; 111 rushing yards; 3.5 YPR vs Clemson.