NOTRE DAME, Ind. (WNDU) – It is no secret that the Notre Dame football ground game has struggled this season, with the Irish coming into Saturday's game against Virginia ranked No. 104 in rushing yards.
Injuries have plagued the Irish backfield all season long. Jahmir Smith was expected to be back Saturday after missing the past two games with turf toe, but Jafar Armstrong still has a few weeks to go.
But the injuries are just part of the Irish running woes
"We'll find ways to move the football," Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said.
It's been a thorn in Notre Dame's paw through the first quarter of the season: the lack of an efficient run game
"Until we get up to the strength that we need to at the running back position, we're going to find ways to put points on the board and win football games," Kelly said.
With Jafar Armstrong and Jahmir Smith battling injuries, Tony Jones Jr. has taken charge.
"Tony and his veteran leadership has been great in the room," running backs coach Lance Taylor said. "He's got great instincts and feel as a runner, which has been great."
The Irish also have had to dig deep in the backfield, turning to freshman Kyren Williams and switching Avery Davis back to the offense
"We have got to rely on Avery and C'Bo Flemister more than we did," Kelly said.
"To be honest on our group, our group is ready, because coach trains us well to have the 'next man in' mindset. So, I think we'll be good," Jones said.
"We have multiple guys that can play winning football and help this football team," Taylor said.
But the added depth and high expectations from earlier this fall haven't led to results – at least not prior to the Virginia game.
In the first game of the season, Irish backs rushed for 149 yards on 28 carries. In the two games since, they've had a mere 70 yards on 29 carries. That was nowhere near preseason standards.
"We consistently have to get better, run the ball when we want to," offensive coordinator Chip Long said.
To do that, the healthy Irish offensive line wants to keep paving the way for its backs
"Just keep doing what we're doing every day. We don't have to be superheroes, we don't have to change everything," lineman Tommy Kraemer said. "Just keep doing we're doing trust our technique, trust our fundamentals and just play physical.
So will today be the day the Irish run game breaks through?
Kelly predicted tough sledding against Virginia, which ranked 12th in the country in rushing yards allowed at just 75 per game. But through one quarter, the Irish have two rushing touchdowns.