The Notre Dame Run game is about to get a significant boost

Aspects of Notre Dame’s offense in 2021 have shown much-needed improvement, but for much of the year the lack of a legitimate ground game has held back the offense.

We saw it in the bowling game, where Notre Dame took a 28-7 lead with a powerful passing attack. As Oklahoma State adjusted, the Irish offense was unable to respond in kind due to the complete inability to conduct football. Despite passing for 509 yards, the Irishman lost the game, in part due to his backs combining for 46 yards on 16 carries (2.9 ypc).

This story repeated itself several times during the season. Against any opponent with a defensive impulse, the Irish struggled to get the ball running. The same story was written several times between 2018 and 21.

With the return of Harry Histandeight offensive linemen with starting experience and a talented group of running backs, the running game should be much better in 2022. The first part of that is key, with Hiestand returning to coach the line.

Looking at all possible metrics, there’s no denying that Notre Dame’s rushing offense was much better when Hiestand was in charge of the offensive line.

Using data from Pro Football Focus, from 2014 to 2017, Notre Dame’s offense averaged 184.5 yards rushing per game and 6.3 yards per carry on engineered runs. That means games that were called like races, and that eliminates sacks and scrambles. Notre Dame running backs averaged 5.9 yards per carry during that streak.

From 2018 to 2021, the four years since Hiestand left, Notre Dame has averaged just 155.3 rushing yards per game and 5.3 yards per carry on engineered carries. That’s nearly 40 yards less per game and a full yard per run. Despite the presence of Kyren Williams, Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr.running backs were averaging just 5.1 yards per carry, down from 5.9 during Hiestand’s tenure.

Races designed

2014-17 – 184.5 yards per game – 6.3 yards per carry
2018-21 – 155.3 yards per game – 5.3 yards per carry

From 2014 to 2017, Notre Dame averaged 7.1 yards per carry (2017) and 6.8 yards per carry (2015) and averaged at least 5.4 yards per carry each season. From 2018 to 2021, Notre Dame never averaged more than 5.6 yards per carry on engineered tracks.

Notre Dame was a much better big-play offense during that streak, too. From 2014 to 2017, Notre Dame racked up 101 runs of at least 20 meters and 25 of those runs were at least 50 meters. From 2018 to 2021, Notre Dame has racked up 83 runs of at least 20 meters and only 12 of at least 50 meters.

Notre Dame made 11 carries of at least 50 yards in 2017 alone, one shy of what the offense racked up from 2018 at 21 combined.

Notre Dame has also had much better success against quality opponents and ranked defenses. Let’s take a look at how Notre Dame’s leading offense fared against Top 40 running defenses during Hiestand’s previous tenure and what followed (using raw rushing totals) :


2017 (4 games) – 176.8 YPG – 4.3 YPG
2015 (7 games) – 168.4 YPG – 4.8 YPG
2016 (6 games) – 162.5 YPG – 4.5 YPG
2014 (5 games) – 109.4 YPG – 3.5 YPC


2020 (4 games) – 126.5 YPG – 3.2 YPG
2018 (3 games) – 113.7 YPG – 2.8 YPG
2019 (4 games) – 88.8 YPG – 3.1 YPC
2021 (3 games) – 65.0 YPG – 2.3 YPC

Totals 2014-17 (22 games) – 154.9 YPG – 4.3 YPC
Totals 2018-21 (14 games) – 99.8 YPG – 2.9 YPC

And against ranked opponents?

2012-17 (27 games) – 152.5 YPG – 4.4 YPC
2018-21 (15 games) – 124.1 YPG – 3.6 YPC

These are dramatic differences. Notre Dame as a program has improved in many ways over the past four seasons. The lack of a successful ground attack was one of the few areas where the program got worse.

Recovering Hiestand to improve ground attack is vitally important, and it will only further improve other aspects of the program. It will make the passing game much better, it will make Notre Dame’s defense much better, and it will restore some of the toughness the program has lost over the past four years.

Can’t help but get a little excited thinking about watching a Tommy Rees attack with the passing game we’ve seen throughout 2021 with the kind of running game Hiestand brought to life during his tenure .

Be sure to check out the Irish Breakdown message board, the Champions Lounge

Content of the Irish distribution

Notre Dame List 2021
Schedule Notre-Dame 2021

Ranking of signatories 2022 – Attack
Ranking of signatories 2022 – Defense

Notre Dame 2023 Class Big Board


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