Who will transform tomorrow?

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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The spotlight will shine a little bit brighter Saturday on George Atkinson III.

It's not like he isn't used to it; as a freshman he returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns. But against Navy, he will see extended time on offense for the first time in his career, even more so now because of the two-game suspension of 1,000-yard rusher Cierre Wood.

Sure, Theo Riddick will get the bulk of the carries, but he figured to see plenty of action anyway, and he's a senior. Atkinson, meanwhile, has shown flashes of his potential on special teams, and he will see a much more increased role in the backfield as the No. 2 option with Wood gone. USC transfer Amir Carlisle remains sidelined with an ankle injury, too, so opportunities will be there for the taking.

That starts with protecting the ball.

During April's Blue-Gold game, Atkinson mesmerized everyone, rushing for 124 yards on just 15 carries while hauling in three passes for 54 yards. But he lost two fumbles, leading to coach Brian Kelly's infamous postgame "heart attack" quote that described both Atkinson and Everett Golson.

Kelly has since said that both players have alleviated such concerns and earned his trust through camp, protecting the ball and showing a greater sense of maturity on the field. That will be tested for both players come game time in Dublin, Ireland, but with Wood set to return in two weeks, the window for making an impact won't be as big for Atkinson.

This could be his first step toward becoming Notre Dame's long-term No. 1 option when Riddick and Wood graduate. And if he happens to overcome new kickoff rules to dazzle there as well, all the better for the Irish.

Matt Fortuna | email

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