SOUTH BEND -- He is the biggest curiosity on the Notre Dame football team in cyberspace, an enigmatic concoction of encouraging numbers and limited playing time that dominates chat board discussions and speculation.
At least Cierre Wood is no longer a mystery on the practice field.
Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said Thursday night that he finally is seeing Wood adjust to a new blocking scheme that has helped suppress not only the senior's rushing numbers this season, but the team's as a whole.
The ninth-ranked Irish (4-0) head into their Shamrock Series matchup with Miami (4-1) Saturday night at Soldier Field in Chicago as the nation's 84th-most-potent rushing attack (out of 120 FBS schools). The Irish are down roughly 20 rushing yards a game from 2011, when they ranked 54th (at 160.4 yards per contest) and are off a yard per carry (3.8 from 4.8 last season).
Wood is averaging 5.6 yards a carry but has just 17 carries for 95 yards a third of the way through the season, a year after recording the 12th-most-prolific single-season rushing total in Irish history (1,102 yards). The 6-foot, 215-pounder missed ND's first two games while serving a suspension for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
The Irish face the nation's 112th-ranked rushing defense Saturday night, when they clash with the Hurricanes, but Nos. 3 (Stanford) and 2 (BYU) in that stat category pop up on the schedule in the two weeks that follow.
There are other factors that have challenged ND's running prowess. Because first-year starting quarterback Everett Golson is still a work-in-progress in the passing game, teams are willing to overstuff the box to gain a numbers advantage in the run game and take their chances with Golson's arm.
The Irish have also faced two top 25 rushing defenses in Purdue and Michigan State. But largely overlooked has been the adjustment to the team's emphasis this season as a zone-blocking team from a gap-pull team the past two years.
"The reads are very much different for the running back," Kelly said. "You have to be so much more patient. And we've really spent this week on Cierre, in particular. in our inside/outside zone game.
"He's done a really nice job of that. The idiosyncrasies are really big. I won't bore you with the details, but I will tell you it takes patience and we really focused on that this week."
Kelly said it was his idea, not new line coach Harry Hiestand's, to make the change, because it's more in the head coach's comfort zone.
Carlisle to redshirt
Subtract USC transfer Amir Carlisle from Notre Dame's 2012 running back mix.
ND head coach Brian Kelly confirmed Thursday that he plans to redshirt the 5-foot-10, 185-pound sophomore, leaving Carlisle three years of eligibility at ND beginning in 2013.
Carlisle successfully petitioned the NCAA last winter to have the one-year waiting period for transferring waived. But he suffered an ankle injury just prior to spring practice that lingered into fall training camp and the early part of this season.
Kelly explained after the ankle healed, nerve damage surfaced, and that made it difficult for Carlisle to play at full speed over long stretches. That problem is finally behind him.
In the meantime, a strong three-man rotation of Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood and George Atkinson III emerged, with sophomore Cam McDaniel showing some impressive flashes as the fourth option.
"To try to fit him into week five or six, and use up another year (of eligibility) for a half season wasn't prudent in my mind," Kelly said of Carlisle. "So we're going to shut him down, put him on scout team, let him be a great guy over there to help our defense prepare and then have him back for three seasons of competition."