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September 29, 2013
NOTRE DAME, Ind. - George Atkinson III offered a bright spot for Notre Dame on Saturday.
What had been a sputtering Irish ground game came to life for 220 yards in the 35-21 loss to Oklahoma. Over the previous three games the Irish rushed for a total of 269 yards in back-to-back-to-back games against Big 10 competition. Notre Dame didn't crack the 100-yard mark once during that run against Michigan, Purdue and Michigan State.
Atkinson exploded for 148 yards on 14 carries, including an 80-yard touchdown.
"I think he showed he has big-play ability," said quarterback Tommy Rees. "He's got speed where if he gets out in the open field he'll run by a lot of people. I think he showed that today and he'll continue to be a good asset to the offense."
Getting Atkinson into another gear didn't come without prodding from head coach Brian Kelly and other members of the staff.
Atkinson accounted for just 87 rushing yards on 16 carries in the three preceding games. Coaches implored the Stockton, Calif., native to run with a more punishing style in order to earn more carries. Clearly, Atkinson listened.
His 14 carries against Oklahoma were a career high.
"We didn't think George ran physical enough," Kelly said. "We told him that. We told him if he wanted to be the starter then he can't get tackled by his ankles. He can't be a guy that goes down. He's 220 pounds and I thought he ran the ball today like I expect George Atkinson to run the ball. He's gotta do that every week. He shouldn't be tackled by his ankles and he showed that today.
"I hope he brings that game with him each and every week because it was sure fun to watch George Atkinson run. Wasn't it fun to watch him run? That's the way he should run each and every week. I think he's capable of doing that. We just need that from him consistently."
Atkinson totaled seven carries for 37 yards in the first half before breaking things open.
Notre Dame forced Oklahoma to punt on its first series of the third quarter and took over at its own 20-yard line. Atkinson rushed left on the first play of the ensuing drive, broke into the open field and sprinted for a touchdown. Troy Niklas stuck key blocks on two Sooner defenders.
Going 80 yards to the end zone marked the longest rush of his career, beating the 56-yard scamper against Navy last season. The last time a Notre Dame back went for 80 yards was when Terrance Howard did it against West Virginia in 2000.
"He runs hard and made some good cuts," said left tackle Zack Martin. "He's got that breakaway speed, so if we're able to get him the space he's gonna make plays. It's up to us up front to get him the open space. But yeah, he ran great."
Atkinson also set a single-game career high in total yardage. His previous best was 123 against Miami last season.
He credited a little nudge to run with more power.
"Just the coaches harping on me to run more physical," Atkinson said. "Sadly, it had to take until now to do it. But I plan on just continuing doing that."
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