ORLANDO, Fla. — One play sticks out to Mike McGlinchey.
The Notre Dame senior offensive lineman probably has tons of memories of star running back Josh Adams leaving opponents in his dust, but this one came to mind.
It was the third quarter against North Carolina State. With a 28-14 lead and possession of the football, the Fighting Irish were one score away from clinching a big win against a top-15 opponent.
That’s when Adams took the handoff, made one player miss and scored from 77 yards, 70 of which there was no one in front of him.
“Watching him run down the sidelines,” the All-American left tackle said, “there’s no better feeling than that.”
Slow down the seventh best rushing offense in the country. That’s the main challenge for No. 16 LSU (9-3) and its defense in the Citrus Bowl. The 14th-ranked Irish (9-3) average 279 yards per game — and their star could have a little extra motivation to finish his college career on a high note.
Adams is one of a handful of Notre Dame juniors who could declare for the NFL draft after the game, although Adams told reporters Thursday he hasn’t decided yet what he’ll do.
A career that includes 3,154 yards rushing — 1,386 just this season — might end Monday afternoon. Adams received 117 carries as a freshman and has become more important to the Fighting Irish’s offense in each of his three seasons.
If you want to know what it’s like to watch Adams run, just ask McGlinchey. He’s been opening up holes for one of the country’s top running backs the whole way.
“He’s got everything. He has great vision and sees holes that most people wouldn’t see,” McGlinchey said. “There’s plenty of times when he blows by us and we just watch. “It’s way more fun to watch someone go 70 yards.
“It means I get to take a breather.”
With a month to rest, the Tigers should prepare for the early season, Heisman-hopeful version and not the one that slowed down in the last few games.
He began the season eclipsing the 100-yard mark six times in eight games and already had 1,169 yards. The last of those eight was the N.C. State win, in which Adams rushed for 202 yards on 27 carries.
Through his final four, he tallied just 217 rushing yards on 59 carries and was held three times to less than 50 yards rushing. That’s less than 4 yards per carry, way down from the 8.85 per carry in the first eight games.
“I think that’s a thing for running backs across the country,” senior tight end Durham Smythe said. “Guys who are getting 20 to 25 carries a game, I think it takes a toll on them. Getting a couple weeks off here at the end of the season is good for anybody but especially guys who are getting hit.”
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly affirmed Adams has “his speed back” and “looks healthy.” But let the man himself tell you how he feels.
“It feels good any time you get a nice break to re-center and get your mind right,” Adams said. “... That time off is necessary.”
Yet, as he said this, you can sense there are mixed feelings. Adams even admitted it. He didn’t play well in Notre Dame’s last game, a 38-20 loss to Stanford. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound running back had just 49 yards from 20 carries, the lowest yards-per-carry tally of the season.
Even though the break was needed, Adams wanted to play immediately.
“I want to get right back out there,” the Pennsylvania native said, “because I know there’s always something I can do better and always something I want to improve on.”
He said he needed to run through contact better — and run better routes. There’s probably more. Adams talks like a perfectionist, never satisfied with success.
“He’s one of the hardest working superstars I’ve ever been around,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said in Friday’s news conference, later adding that Adams’ practices lately were “as good a bowl prep as anybody.”
LSU’s 21st-ranked run defense, allowing 126 yards per game, could be one final challenge for Adams. The last time he faced a Southeastern Conference defense was in September against Georgia, which held him to 53 yards rushing on 19 carries. If he caps a great season with a great Citrus Bowl, it might be time to move aside for one of the younger running backs.
Like McGlinchey, they’ve watched Adams do his thing all season.
“Since my sophomore year, I’ve tried helping some of the freshmen coming in,” Adams said, singling out sophomore Tony Jones Jr. as a future star for the Irish. “I’m just trying to help him do the best he can, and I’m also learning from him, seeing the way he plays and trying to pick up different things from him.
“I don’t think that comes with any position you’re in. I think that comes from being a great player and an even better teammate.”