The regular season is over and the end of the semester has arrived. Here, we grade Notre Dame's 2011 campaign by position. Part five of the 10-part series brings us to the running backs.
Summary: This is a group that simply exceeded expectations, and it's too bad Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray did not get to finish what they started together. If they had, they may have just been the first pair of running backs in Notre Dame history to rush for 1,000 yards in the same season. Wood currently has 1,042 yards after 12 games, eight of which he started. The other four starts went to Gray, who had a senior renaissance like none Brian Kelly had ever witnessed before in his coaching career.
Gray tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in the third quarter Nov. 19 against Boston College, ending his career early. Before then, he was working his way onto NFL scouts' radars with a 791-yard season and 12 touchdowns, with all 12 coming in his final eight games. (He scored at least one in each game, too.) Gray had never scored a touchdown in his career before Week 4 at Pitt. He averaged 6.9 yards per carry and was in pursuit of George Gipp's single-season school record of 8.11 for much of the season. Gray overcame a costly fumble on the Irish's first drive of the season and had a senior year to remember before bad luck intervened. Kelly said Tuesday he is optimistic that Gray could be ready for pro day this spring.
Backups: Here is where it gets tricky, even if Wood comes back. Theo Riddick has gone from running back to wide receiver and now back to running back following Gray's injury. Kelly said it's possible Riddick could stay there. The junior has 46 career carries for 216 yards. Freshman George Atkinson III, who has made his mark on kick returns this season, should see more time in the backfield next year as well. Fellow freshman Cam McDaniel could factor in moving forward.
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