It has taken a while for the Notre Dame fan base to warm up to Cierre Wood, but these days he's being spoken of in glowing terms. He's also starting to get a lot of attention on the national scene with NFL scouts weighing in on the talented junior as well.
After a career high 191 yards rushing last weekend against Purdue, Wood has turned into a bona fide playmaker and someone who has become a major focus of a very talented Notre Dame offense.
Here is a profile of Cierre Wood as he and the Irish get ready to take on the Air Force Academy on Saturday.
Wood has a nice blend of size (6'0" 215 pounds) and speed. Once he takes possession of the ball, he can be electric thanks to tremendous footwork and agility---so much so that he seems smaller than he really is because he can bounce around like a smaller back.
His vision is above-average and improving, and when he hits a hole he gets through to the second level in a hurry. Wood also runs with good body control in his lower half and has a nice long, yet quick stride.
Wood almost always makes the first guy miss in the open field, or even in tight quarters, without losing much steam. His mixture of juking ability and speed are elite for a college running back.
His open field speed is very good, but his quickness is more deadly in the first and second levels of a defense.
Wood runs with surprising power and has improved this aspect of his game tremendously since last year. His long and slimmer arms make him appear to be a pure speed back, but he has the larger legs and overall body weight to lower his head and run someone over and fight for extra yards.
He is solid weapon out of the backfield as a receiver, and has vastly improved his blocking and skill set as an all-around running back.
Wood's vision has improved a lot from his sophomore to junior seasons, but it could be better. He seems to be a very patient runner at times, but then suddenly appears to be incredibly impatient with a tendency to kick the ball outside at the the smallest sign of trouble in front of him.
He doesn't have elite NFL open-field speed and often runs out of gas towards the end of his long runs.
Wood looks uncomfortable as a receiver at times, as he has trouble corralling balls that aren't perfectly thrown to him. He is still electric once the ball is in his hands, but he is not a seasoned pass catcher.
He is sometimes too fast for his own good, and would be more effective if he waited a half second longer to let the blocks develop in front of him. Wood doesn't use his arms very well, could use the stiff arm more often, and needs to shed defenders more often using his strength as a runner.
Wood has improved his ball security issues, but still runs a little carelessly with the ball. He needs a little bit more experience and polish before he's truly an elite running back, but he's on his way in 2011.
Key Matchup vs. Air Force
Notre Dame should have a huge advantage in the running game as Air Force has had major problems stopping teams on the ground in 2011.
The Falcons run a 3-4 scheme and their playmakers at middle linebacker are tasked with running all over the field and making an impact on every series.
Air Force doesn't have anyone on their defense who is the type of athlete that Wood is, but they are determined and adept at sneaking through and around blocks to make tackles. If Cierre Wood breaks into the second level, will Waiwaiole and Amack be able to make crucial tackles?
How Will Notre Dame Use Wood?
Probably not much different than they already do.
With such an overwhelming size and weight advantage over Air Force, the Irish would be smart to run a lot of power formations right down the throat of the Falcons.
You should see plenty of runs through the middle of the field, and this might be one of the games where quarterback Tommy Rees could take the snap from under center and hand the ball off in that fashion much more often than he has so far this year.
Also, head coach Brian Kelly has intimated that there will be a special package for either sophomore quarterback Andrew Hendrix or freshman Everett Golson (likely Hendrix), and if that is the case we could see a handful of plays where Cierre Wood is involved in more of an option game.
Either way, Notre Dame is going to pound the ball at Air Force with Wood (and backup Jonas Gray). This more power-heavy approach might be more abundant this weekend, but the Irish are still going to want to get Cierre Wood out in space too. Expect plenty of playcalls to get Wood on out on the edge of the Falcon defense.
C. Wood Stats
Yards Per Carry