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Notre Dame Football

In Diggs & Estimé, Notre Dame Returns Two 800-yard Backs for the First Time on Record

April 11, 2023
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Buzz and Woody.

Han Solo and Chewbacca.

Mario and Luigi.

Logan Diggs and Audric Estimé.

They’re all-time historic duos in animation (Toy Story), cinema (Star Wars), video games (Super Mario Bros) or storied college football programs (Notre Dame) that returned for at least one sequel together.

Are there more accomplished running backs in Fighting Irish history?

Sure, but there’s never been a duo to play together in back-to-back seasons quite like this. 

In 2023, the Fighting Irish return two running backs who rushed for 800 yards or more in the prior season for the first time since at least the days of Knute Rockne.

Diggs and Estimé rarely play simultaneously, but it’s a considerable advantage to feature two dynamic running backs on the same roster. 

“When one of us is not needed, we both understand that,” Diggs said of Estimé. “It’s not personal. It’s going to be a long season. It’s going to be a real long season, so we love having each other, pushing each other to compete to be better.”

                                        Audric Estimé and Logan Diggs 2022 Rushing Stats
Player Year Yards Carries YPC TDs YPG
Audric Estimé So.  920 156 5.9 11 70.8
Logan Diggs So. 822 165 5.0 4 68.5

The running back duo will enter the fall more than capable of taking their games to the next level.

Diggs tore his left labrum in the 2022 Blue-Gold Game, which slowed him down in the fall. In Notre Dame’s first three games, Diggs carried the ball 11 times.

By week four, Diggs felt healthy and amassed 1,015 yards from scrimmage on 164 touches (6.2 YPA) over Notre Dame’s final 10 games, including 804 yards on the ground. 

He’s missed time this spring due to a minor lower-body injury. So it’s probably wise for Notre Dame to be cautious with Diggs to give him an optimal opportunity to enter the 2023 season full go. 

Estimé played in all 13 games last year, but ball security and conditioning issues sometimes kept him off the field. He lost a fumble in the season half of a 16-14 loss to Stanford and carried the ball just three times that evening. 

This offseason, the hulking running back took it upon himself to reshape his body by focusing on his nutrition. Most notably, he significantly cut down on fast food. 

“Before it used to be multiple times a week,” Estimé said, “but we cut it down to once a week now.” 

He’s still listed at 227 pounds on the Notre Dame roster. At the same time, he’s noticeably leaner and more agile but says his muscle mass and strength numbers increased across the board. 

“I for sure feel different,” Estimé said. “I feel like I have a little more twitch. I definitely feel quicker a lot on my feet. I feel like my feet are moving a little faster. But I feel like cutting a couple of pounds of fat definitely helped a lot.”

Diggs and Estimé are confident they’ll have plenty of room to run this fall. Joe Alt also returns in 2023. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the best run-blocking tackle in the FBS last fall. Right tackle Blake Fisher is also back at a more nimble 310 pounds.

Zeke Correll enters his fifth season as the incumbent center after starting all 13 games in 2022. 

Still, the Irish must replace veteran offensive guards Jarrett Patterson and Josh Lugg and one of college football’s best run-blocking tight ends in Michael Mayer.

“We're moving in the right direction,”  Estimé said. “Our O-line's getting together. We're getting better every day. Our tight ends are getting better and coach Deland is still detailing the details. I feel like Coach Deland, he's never satisfied…

“That's one thing with Coach Deland, we're never gonna get worse. We're always going to get better.”

Outside of injuries, the most likely impediment toward both players eclipsing 800 yards once again is the overall depth at the position. 

Soon, sophomores JD Price and Gi'Bran Payne will be healthy and top-100 prospect Jeremiyah Love will enroll this summer. It’s also possible senior speedster Chris Tyree will move back to running back after working at wide receiver this spring.

Thus it could make sense to rest Diggs and Estimé more often this fall, especially against Notre Dame’s weaker 2023 opponents.

College Football’s Other Returning 800-yard Duos

In 2022, six total programs had two 800-yard backs. Those duo also returns for Michigan, Penn State and Boise State.

The Wolverines and the Nittany Lions feature players Notre Dame pursued heavily in recent recruiting cycles, with the Fighting Irish finishing among the top three schools for Donovan Edwards and Nicholas Singleton.

Notre Dame likely wouldn’t trade running back rooms with any other program in the country, but it’s clear the staff knows how to evaluate high-end talent out of the backfield.

                                                       Michigan’s 2022 Rushing Duo
Player Year Yards Carries YPC TDs YPG
Blake Corum Jr. 1463 247 5.9 18 121.9
Donovan Edwards So. 991 140 7.1 7 90.1

Blake Corum likely would’ve forgone his senior season and declared for the NFL draft if he’d played during recent eras of college football. 

Even Edwards was surprised to see him return Blake Corum return for his senior season after the unanimous first-team All-American carried the ball 390 times over the prior two seasons.

“I’m excited (for him) — but at the same time, it has its positives and negatives,” Edwards told MLive. “I wanted to see him go to the NFL; I didn’t want him having another 250-plus carries on his body. That’s putting stuff on him. I don’t want to see that. I want to see him get paid right away.”

Corum must be well compensated via NIL, especially after the Valiant Management Group launched the One More Year Fund to entice him to return for another season.

There’s a good chance Edwards, a more efficient runner at 7.1 yards per carry, takes on a larger load in 2023, especially after Corum wore down at the end of last season. 

Corum carried the ball twice for six yards in the season finale against No. 2 Ohio State before missing the Big Ten Championship and Michigan College Football Playoff semifinal matchup against TCU.

“It’s no reason why I shouldn’t be on the field; no reason I shouldn’t be getting playing time,” Edwards said. “The dynamic player that I am, the coaches know how versatile I am. The world might not know just yet, but I’ve been showing it.”

                                                      Penn State’s 2022 Rushing Duo
Player Year Yards Carries YPC TDs YPG
Nicholas Singleton Fr. 1061 156 6.8 12 81.6
Kaytron Allen Fr. 867 167 5.2 10 66.7

During his true freshman campaign, Singleton proved that he’s already a rare combination in college football as a highly efficient runner and workhorse. 

He finished 2022 as one of five running backs to average at least 6.8 yards per rush attempt and score double-digit touchdowns while carrying the ball at least 100 times.

                                                      Boise States 2022 Rushing Duo
Player Year Yards Carries YPC TDs YPG
George Holani Jr. 1157 221 5.2 10 89.0
Ashton Jeanty Fr. 821 156 5.3 7 58.6

The Broncos also leaned on redshirt freshman quarterback Taylen Green in the run game. In 2022, he carried the ball for 586 yards and 10 touchdowns. All three return this fall. 

Notre Dame’s Other 800-yard Duos 

Notre Dame had two players rush for 800 yards on the same team five other times in its storied history. 

Running backs Phil Carter and Jim Stone accomplished this feat in 1980 in coach Dan Devine’s sixth season in South Bend. Neither were efficient by modern standards. Each averaged fewer than 4.8 yards per rush, which would’ve ranked them outside of the top 100 in 2022 among players with at least 50 carries.

                                                                  1980 Top Irish Rushers

Player

Yards Carries YPC YPG Total Yard Total TDs
Jim Stone 908 192 4.7 82.6 937 7
Phil Carter 822 186 4.4 117.4 849 6

Following the season, the Seattle Seahawks drafted Stone in the ninth round with the No. 223 overall pick in the 1981 NFL draft.

Notre Dame had back-to-back seasons with 800-yard backs in 1991 and 1992, both of which involved Jerome “The Bus” Bettis and a Brooks brother. 

In 1991, he accomplished this feat with Tony Brooks, a fourth-round pick by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 1992 NFL Draft.

                                                                1991 Top Irish Rushers
Player Yards Carries YPC YPG Total Yards Total TDs
Jerome Bettis 972 168 5.8 1162 81 20
Tony Brooks 894 147 6.1 1020 74.5 6

Bettis’ 16 rushing touchdowns in 1991 is tied for third all-time amongst Fighting Irish players. 

Next fall, he split carries with a breakout star in Reggie Brooks, who averaged 8.0 yards per rush attempt — second all-time in program history. 

                                                                1992 Top Irish Rushers
Player Yards Carries YPC YPG Total Yards Total TDs
Reggie Brooks 1343 167 8.0 122.1 1367 14
Jerome Bettis 825 154 5.4 77.5 1064 12

Brooks and Bettis were top 50 selections in the 1993 NFL Draft.

The Fighting Irish didn’t feature another 800-yard rushing duo until 2015. That fall,  junior CJ Prosise and freshman Josh Adams replaced running back Tarean Folston — an 800-yard rusher in 2014 — who tore his ACL in the season opener against Texas.

                                                               2015 Top Irish Rushers
Player Yards Carries YPC YPG Total Yards Total TDs
CJ Prosise 1029 157 6.6 102.9 1337 12
Josh Adams 838 116 7.2 69.8 880 7

Prosise declared for the 2016 NFL draft and Adams exceeded 800 yards in his next two seasons. That included his final collegiate season in 2017 when Brandon Wimbush became just the second Notre Dame quarterback to rush for 800 yards.

                                                              2017 Top Irish Rushers
Player Yards Carries YPC YPG Total Yards Total TDs
Josh Adams 1430 206 6.9 110 1531 9
Brandon Wimbush 804 140 5.7 67 804* 14*

*Total yards and touchdowns do not include passing statistics.

Wimbush holds the record for the most rushing touchdowns by a Notre Dame quarterback since at least the 1940s. His 803 rush yards rank second all-time behind Tony Rice’s 1989 season.

Unfortunately, individual statistics are unreliable before World War II.

Based on Notre Dame’s media guide, which offers year-by-year statistical leaders dating back to Rockne’s inaugural season as head coach, two players led the team in rushing with at least 800 yards between 1918 and 1942. 

George “The Gipper” Gipp rushed for 827 yards in just seven games in 1920 but spent the final two contests in the hospital. He died of a streptococcal throat infection and pneumonia on Dec. 14, a tragic event immortalized in a performance by then-actor Ronald Regan in the 1940 film Knute Rockne All American.

That fall, he averaged 8.1 yards per attempt, which remains the current Fighting Irish record among players with at least 100 carries, according to the late Lou Somogyi. 

Individual season stats for other players in 1920 are near-impossible to come by, but it’s unlikely the Irish had two return 800-yard rushers in 1921. That’s especially since first-stringers Joe Brandy (quarterback) and Norman Barry (halfback) embarked on professional careers that fall.

Marchmont "Marchy" Schwartz set a new Notre Dame record in Rockne’s final season in 1930 by rushing for 927 yards on 7.48 yards per carry. He returned in 1931, but it’s not possible for there to have been another returning 800-yard rusher. 

The rest of the team produced 1,745 yards on the ground in 1930. Based on individual statistics for seniors fullback Joe Savoldi, right halfback Marty Brill, quarterback Frank Carideo and right halfback ​​Paul O'Connor, it would’ve been impossible for another 800-yard rusher to return in 1931.

Still, Swartz and Savoldi might’ve been Notre Dame’s original 800-yard duo out of the backfield if not for a harsh application of morality. 

Swartz’s 927 rush yards in 1930 stood as a Fighting Irish record until running back Al Hunter ran for 1,058 yards in 1974. 

Meanwhile, Savoldi was a star in his own right. In 1929, he led the Irish with 112 carries for 597 rush yards and six touchdowns. 

In 1930, he was on his way to an even more productive season alongside Swartz. Savoldi rushed for 440 and six scores through six games in 1930 before the administration kicked him off the team after learning the All-American had secretly married and was seeking a divorce.

The ordeal inspired the following lede from the Associated Press:

“Matrimony has accomplished what a score of good football teams attempted and failed to do. It has halted Galloping Joe Savoldi from ripping off touchdowns for Notre Dame.”

Savoldi played for the Chicago Bears. Later, he dabbled in professional wrestling, invented the dropkick and became a fascist-fighting special ops agent in World War II.

 
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