SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) —
Brian Kelly’s motto this season has been “next man in” for injury-riddled Notre Dame.
Now it’s Cierre Wood’s turn.
With starting running back Jonas Gray suffering a torn ACL against Boston College, the Irish will lean even more heavily on Wood in Saturday’s game at No. 4 Stanford.
Wood wasn’t exactly behind Gray. Wood began the season as the starter, and leads the team in carries (187) and rushing yards (1,001). But his workload is sure to surpass his average of 17 carries per game against the Cardinal as the Irish try to keep Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck off the field.
Against Boston College, Wood finished with 26 carries while taking over the running back position when Gray was injured on the first play of the second half. Thirty carries this weekend might not be out of the question.
“If they need me to carry the ball 50 times that’s what I’ll do,” Wood said. “If they need me to carry it 10 times that’s what I’ll do. As long as we get the W that’s what I’m more concerned about.”
With a two-back offense, Wood had been the speed to Gray’s power.
“He’s got to do it all,” Kelly said of Wood. “He’s not Jonas Gray. He doesn’t run the same way. He’s a different runner.”
Still, Wood said he never thought of certain plays being designed for Gray and other plays being designed for him.
“I never looked at it as this is a Jonas play,” Wood said. “I’m pretty sure he never looked at it as the speed plays would be my plays. Whatever play that comes up, we’re going to run that to the best of our ability and try to break it.”
Wood said he knows he’s in for a tall task against the Cardinal. In last year’s 37-14 loss to Stanford, the Irish only mustered 44 yards on the ground.
“They’re a very physical team. They’re assignment sound. They play with little to no mistakes. You add together with a lot of talent and that puts you in the top five in the nation,” Wood said.
Against the stout Stanford run defense that ranks fifth nationally, Wood will have to use a combination of speed and strength to gain maximum yardage. And he says he won’t try to force anything.
The virtue of patience is something Wood had to develop when losing his starting spot to Gray over the past several games. In the four weeks before the Boston College game, Gray carried the ball 56 times to Wood’s 48.
Running backs coach Tim Hinton said Wood handled the demotion with poise.
“He managed it tremendously well,” Hinton said. “You’ve got to really compliment Cierre on how he managed it and how we was able to take that. Some kids aren’t going to do as well as he did. Bottom line is he came out and continued to produce and had great yardage.”
When Gray went down to injury, Hinton said Wood may have taken it worse than anyone else.
“It really bothered Cierre that his buddy got hurt,” Wood said. “It bothered him internally . I was really proud of how he managed that.”
Wood’s personality shines in the running back group. He’s not one to shy away from making a joke.
“He’s got a great personality,” Hinton said. “We love being around him. Our players enjoy him. He’ll miss Jonas being around because that was his real sidekick.”
On Tuesday, Wood was simply wondering whether he would be going to Hinton’s house for Thanksgiving dinner.
“Got to have some sweet potato pie,” Wood said. “You have to. If he doesn’t have that, I’m definitely not going.”
If sweet potato pie is what Wood needs before carrying the load Saturday, the Irish will make sure he gets some.