- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Don't look now, but the alleged pass-happy offense of Brian Kelly could finish this season with a pair of 1,000-yard rushers.
Cierre Wood is 93 yards shy of the 1,000-yard mark with three games (including a bowl game) remaining. Jonas Gray has a longer way to go, though 270 yards over the final three games is not out of the realm of possibility for a running back coming off a career-best 136-yard performance Saturday.
"Well, you know, you used the word 'perception,'" Kelly said. "I think sometimes you have to overcome perception. But I've had multiple 1,000-yard rushers when we had the depth at that position and we had an experienced offensive line. So, yeah, once in a while you have to be able to say, 'Look at my entire body of work, not what we had to do to win football games over the last few years.'"
Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar attributed the progress of the running game to the experienced offensive line.
"It's a night-and-day difference in practice," Molnar said. "It's a night-and-day difference in the games. Those guys have grown four years really in the course of one year. All the experience that they got last year and some of the not so good things that happened to them, they all have long memories and they learned. And I think through the product of their experiences that they've had. Both of them have really good teachers in [offensive line coach and running game coordinator Ed] Warinner and [Mike] Denbrock with the tight ends.
"You just see more continuity. We've become a tougher group of guys up front. For whatever the reason, we didn't think they were the toughest guys in the world when we first showed up, and they certainly have changed their attitude and they're really becoming a more physical group of guys."
Molnar did not want to look too far ahead and think of what it would be like to have a pair of 1,000-yard rushers, but he did recall saying in the summer that he expected to have one running back hit the millennium mark.
To have one more player get even close to that, he said, would mark real progress.
"I think it really enables us to go into homes across America," Molnar said, "and recruit the very best running backs and say, 'Listen, you'll get not only an opportunity to play football at Notre Dame, but you'll also get a chance to carry the football enough times that you'll feel that it was beneficial in the development of your career.'"