SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) - Running back C.J. Prosise practiced without taking hits Wednesday and coach Brian Kelly expects the leading rusher for eighth-ranked Notre Dame to be ready to play against No. 7 Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1.
Kelly said Prosise, who missed the regular-season finale against Stanford after sustaining a high-ankle sprain against Boston College, should be ready for contact when the Irish (10-2) resume practices in Arizona on Sunday.
“I think we have to push him through a threshold of feeling confident on cutting and things of that nature,” Kelly said. “I think we just have to get him over that hump.”
Prosise became the first 1,000-yard rusher for Notre Dame since 2011, running for 1,032 yards on 156 carries, an average of 6.6 yards a carry. But because of a concussion sustained against Pittsburgh and the ankle sprain, he rushed for only 79 yards on 14 carries over the final four games, sitting out two because of injuries.
Freshman Josh Adams rushed for 495 yards on 68 carries in those four games and finished the regular season with 757 yards on 103 carries, an average of 7.3 yards. Kelly is eager to see both against Ohio State (11-1).
“Both of them complement each other so well. Josh has proven himself to be such a hard, inside, physical runner and C.J. clearly gives us that home run ability,” Kelly said. “If we can ever get them tagged up together, it will be a very lethal 1-2 punch.”
They should be aided by a healthier offensive line, where players had been slowed by ankle sprains and other injuries, Kelly said.
“The offensive line is definitely in much better condition across the board,” Kelly said. “Other than the defensive line, where you’re always dealing with something there, the health of the football team going into this game is as good as it can be.”
The Irish are expected to get back nose guard Jarron Jones and tight end Durham Smythe, who both sustained knee injuries. Jones has yet to play this season, while Smythe played two games. Smythe could help the Irish score more points in the red zone, where Notre Dame ranks 90th in the nation.
The Irish are scoring on just 80 percent of their chances inside the opponent’s 20-yard line, and finishing with touchdowns only 56 percent of the time. Irish tight ends have only 17 catches this year, with Smythe making the only touchdown catch on a fake field goal. It was the least productive year for the Irish at tight end since the 2002 season.
Kelly said red zone was a focus at practice on Wednesday. He wants quarterback DeShone Kizer to make better decisions.
“He just needs to be a little bit more decisive down there in the red zone,” he said.
Notes: Kelly praised the work quarterback Malik Zaire has done since sustaining a season-ending broken ankle against Virginia on Sept. 12. He said Zaire hasn’t missed a meeting or practice, saying that’s unusual for an injured player. Zaire is taking one-on-one reps and is at about 60 percent strength, Kelly said. … The Irish practiced outside Wednesday morning with temperatures in the 50s. “I think that could be the first time the Notre Dame football team has been outside practicing on Dec. 23,” Kelly said.
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