SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) — Running back George Atkinson III cut left behind a block, burst through the hole, raced past an Oklahoma defensive back and ran untouched for an 80-yard touchdown. It was a highlight for Notre Dame in what ended up being a loss.
The Fighting Irish coaches were happiest with his shorter runs: They have been on the 6-1, 220-pound junior all season, saying they wanted him to show more toughness. Although Atkinson, the son of former Oakland Raiders great George Atkinson Jr., has been listed as the starting running back all season, he's started only two games and the game against Oklahoma was the first time this season he led the team in rushing or carries.
"We didn't think George ran physical enough. We told him that. We told him if he wanted to be the starter, that he can't get tackled by his ankles. He can't be the guy that goes down," coach Brian Kelly said.
The coaches put together a videotape showing Atkinson examples of where they thought he went down too easily, Kelly said.
"Isn't this a tackle you should be running through? Shouldn't you be getting through this tackle? How did you get tackled here?" Kelly said. "So it got to the point where we had to physically sit him down and show him clip after clip after clip. These are tackles that you must run through. They can't tackle you. You're 220 pounds."
Atkinson got the message about the need to run harder, although he said he couldn't recall the film session Kelly talked about, joking: "Maybe I got hit in the head too many times."
Atkinson, who was timed in the 100-meter dash at 10.36 at the Big East track championships in 2012, responded by proving he can do more than run fast. In the third quarter, on second-and-2 from the 34, Atkinson took the handoff, ran over Oklahoma defensive back Aaron Colvin at the 39 and rumbled for another 9 yards before a linebacker and defensive back brought him down after a 14-yard gain.