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Notre Dame Football: Irish Eyes On The Future At Running Back In 2019

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Undefeated together.

Jafar Armstrong Notre Dame vs Michigan
Jafar Armstrong
Mike Miller/One Foot Down

With the 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season behind us, we can start to look towards the future. Next up in the grand scheme of things is spring football. This series will provide a quick look at all the position groups for Notre Dame football as we enter winter workouts, and spring practice.

RUNNING BACKS

2018 had a giant question mark next to the running back position when the season started. Sure... we knew who was going to lineup for the Irish, but with Dexter Williams under a four game suspension, all eyes fell on Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr and the other handful of backs on the roster. We wondered if they would they be productive enough to help Notre Dame win with Williams on the sideline.

As it turned out — they were, but it wasn’t exactly sexy.

1st 4 Game RB Production

Opponent ATT YARDS AVG TD
Opponent ATT YARDS AVG TD
Michigan 26 77 2.96 2
Ball State 28 128 4.57 3
Vanderbilt 28 164 5.85 1
Wake Forest 26 196 7.54 3
TOTALS 108 565 5.23 2.25

It was mostly the Jones and Armstrong show, with Avery Davis making a disappointing appearance here and there. At first glance the numbers seem a little slim (and they are) but they were also supplemented by Brandon Wimbush’s legs in the first three games, and then Ian Book’s nice game on the ground against Wake Forest.

Tony Jones Jr. scores a touchdown for Notre Dame against Ball State.
Tony Jones Jr.
Mike Miller/One Foot Down

It’s these numbers in the first four games that are of the greatest interest to me. Once Dexter Williams returned in game 5 against Stanford, the entire dynamic made a huge shift (as was expected). Dexter Williams didn’t become a part of the puzzle, he was the puzzle.

Carries and reps lessened and lessened for the other backs, and Jafar Armstrong had some health issues that kept him out of the rotation for a few games. The freshmen, Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister saw almost no action on the season, so any real assessment of where they may be at in their development is almost impossible to say — except that they need to get better.

DEPARTURES FROM 2018

Dexter Williams is the lone departure for the Irish in 2019, and it’s even bigger than the void left by Josh Adams after 2017. Williams, like Adams, was a home run threat, and was capable of breaking that long touchdown run at any moment. It’s something that Notre Dame won’t likely have in 2019. Williams averaged over 110 yards per game, 6.3 YPC, and ran in 12 touchdowns — which was more than the other running backs combined. While his 995 yards won’t gain him much praise outside of South Bend, if he only ran for his average in the 4 games he missed, he would be walking away with well over 1400 yards rushing.

Williams was THE playmaker for the Notre Dame offense, and one that can’t (and probably won’t) be replaced in 2019. Think back to that first carry against Stanford that went 45 yards for a touchdown, or the 97 yard touchdown run against Virginia Tech — or even the 6 first downs he had against Pitt on a dirty day... Dexter was the lightning rod.

RETURNING FOR 2019

At least we can say that there is a lot returning for the Irish in 2019 at running back. Experience clearly won’t be an issue moving forward, but they still need to find what will work for them.

The returning group of Jafar Armstrong, Tony Jones Jr., Avery Davis, Jahmir Smith, and C’Bo Flemister has potential, but not nearly enough tangible evidence, in my opinion, to feel great about the position group in 2019.

Returning Running Back Rushing Production

Running Back GP ATT GAIN LOSS NET APC TD
Running Back GP ATT GAIN LOSS NET APC TD
6 Tony Jones Jr. (SR) 13 83 412 20 392 4.7 3
8 Jafar Armstrong (JR) 10 72 402 19 383 5.3 7
3 Avery Davis (JR) 9 22 78 8 70 3.2 0
34 Jahmir Smith (SO) 2 6 28 0 28 4.7 0
20 C'Bo Flemister 2 1 0 0 0 0 0

Returning Running Back Receiving Production

Running Back GP REC YARDS AVG TD
Running Back GP REC YARDS AVG TD
8 Jafar Armstrong (JR) 10 14 159 11.36 0
6 Tony Jones Jr. (SR) 13 6 157 26.17 1
3 Avery Davis (JR) 9 5 30 6 0
34 Jahmir Smith (SO) 2 1 14 14 0
20 C'Bo Flemister 2 0 0 0 0

NEW ADDITION

4-Star running back, Kyren Williams joins the Irish in 2019, and will be one of the 10 early enrollees to participate in spring football. Williams was on the very top of the Notre Dame running back board — ahead of many players that were ranked ahead of him by the recruiting services. Perhaps this spring we will see what the Irish coaching staff saw in Kyren for quite a while.

2019 OUTLOOK

Michigan v Notre Dame Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images

It isn’t hard to imagine the Irish rushing attack in 2019 looking a lot like it did in the first quarter of 2018. Ideally, I think the tandem of Armstrong and Jones will be the workhorses of the offense, and maybe we see more 2 back sets.

Armstrong is more of an every down back, and Jones could fully develop into the power back that his body is suited for. I would like to see more out of both in the passing game, especially with Armstrong’s history as a receiver.

My affinity for the fullback dump pass, as well as a good wheel route, has me already imagining an expanded role for Jones in that area.

I’m not sure what Notre Dame will do with Avery Davis. With the lack of numbers at quarterback this spring, I suppose they could move him back under center, but is that maximizing the talent at hand? From what we saw of him in 2018 though, I’m not sure his talent is being maximized at running back either.

For Smith and Flemister, the spring becomes increasingly important for their development and roles moving forward. Will either of them become a part of a more regular rotation, and can they fend of the talented freshman, Kyren Williams?

There’s a lot more to like with this group than what you would first think with the loss of Dexter Williams. How they put it all together in the rotations and the play packages is what will likely determine their possible success in 2019.

RANDOM RANDOMNESS TO PONDER

Poll

How do you feel about Notre Dame’s RB situation in 2019?

This poll is closed

  • 18%
    Good
    (184 votes)
  • 47%
    Okay
    (466 votes)
  • 33%
    Worried
    (330 votes)
980 votes total Vote Now