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Bye week grades: running backs

RUNNING BACKS

Grade: B+

Summary: What? No A?! OK, but to give this group a perfect grade would be to overlook the early-season turnovers, which played a large role in two losses to open the season. And, no matter how well the Irish play from here on out -- and they certainly have done everything they possibly could have done these past four weeks to make Weeks 1 and 2 a distant memory -- the fact remains that this year's Notre Dame team will finish with at least two losses, BCS bowl bid or not.

With that out of the way, it is time to take a step back and appreciate just how far the run game has come. Starter Cierre Wood has 650 yards and six touchdowns on 113 carries and looks more and more like a pro out there. Senior Jonas Gray has been the feel-good story of the season, tallying four touchdowns over his last three games after not recording a single one in his college career. Gray has 395 yards on just 47 carries and is averaging an incredible 8.4 yards per carry. Brian Kelly challenged Gray after his Week 1 goal-line fumble, and the senior has responded accordingly, earning game captain status against Air Force before a two-touchdown performance in that game. The unit insists it can get better, and it is set on not allowing a sack this season, but it's safe to say most Notre Dame fans are pleasantly surprised by what they have seen so far.

The backups: Freshmen Cam McDaniel and George Atkinson III have combined for 10 yards and a touchdown on five carries, so it's tough to judge the reserves' performances so far. With Wood's standout season, however, a leap to the NFL is not out of the question, and what is behind him (and the senior Gray) is largely unknown.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks

Defensive line

Offensive line

Linebackers