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Monday, May 27, 2024
The Observer

‘Let’s go with Logan’: Diggs answers the call

Sophomore running back Logan Diggs made his presence known as a freshman. With injuries marring the running back room in 2021, Diggs stepped in to fill a major complementary role down the stretch. He notched seven touches for 44 yards in his season debut versus Virginia Tech. In a three-game stretch versus UNC, Navy and Virginia, Diggs filled his role to the tune of 28 carries for 165 yards, good for 5.9 yards per carry and two touchdowns. 

Heading into 2022, Diggs seemed to potentially be in position to claim a lead role amidst a running back room that head coach Marcus Freeman has described as a ‘three-headed monster’. However, a shoulder injury again postponed Diggs’ return. Initially expected to miss a month of regular season action, Diggs was available for the opener, but in a limited capacity, notching just four carries against Ohio State. Against Marshall, Diggs ran the ball seven times but for just seven yards. 

“I probably wouldn’t say that it inhibited [physical running], but I would say in the beginning of the season I definitely wasn’t as confident as I am now with my shoulder,” Diggs said after Notre Dame’s 44-21 win over UNLV. “I was kind of stiff and scared to go out there.” 

Diggs missed the Cal game but returned to a slightly bigger role against the soft UNC defense. He carried the ball 10 times and recorded three receptions for 115 total yards. However, his 13 touches still didn’t match the workloads of classmate Audric Estime (17 touches, 134 yards) and junior Chris Tyree (19 touches, 104 yards). 

“Logan’s done a great job. He’s continued to get better. That’s a result of being unselfish,” Freeman noted. “It’s tough. You’ve got three great running backs. Everybody wants the ball.”

Now, as Diggs’ health grows, he’s elevated once more from a complementary piece in this offense to a much bigger role. While it’s still a three-man backfield, Diggs has now led the Irish in rushing attempts in three straight games. Against BYU, he carried the ball 17 times for 93 yards. Against Stanford, Diggs notched nine carries and a reception for 62 total yards. But his magnum opus, to this point in his young career, came Saturday against the UNLV Rebels. 

Diggs toted the ball 28 times, easily a career high, totaling 130 yards at 4.6 yards per pop.

“It doesn't matter if I have eight carries, ten carries, 28,” Diggs said. “I’m going to keep growing and stay a humble and confident young man.”

The Irish elected to lean on Diggs after Estime fumbled for the third time in four games. Estime fumbled on a potential game-winning drive last week and put the ball on the ground once more against the Rebels. Diggs stepped up in the moment and discussed how he handles those situations with Estime.

“All I can do is continue to be my brother’s keeper. The ball is the most important thing on the offense and you can’t let that go. So, last week I [said] it’s going to be all right. Just keep on doing your job,” Diggs said. “Today I was a real teammate and told him…if you want to play, you’ve got to hold onto the ball. It’s as simple as that. We have that mutual respect. I could tell him anything, and he could tell me anything.” 

Estime’s role, given his recent struggles, will be revealed in the coming games. But on Saturday, it was Diggs’ show. Tyree notched ten carries to spell Diggs, but it was the sophomore that did the dirty work. Diggs was the guy early on, getting six of the first eight carries in the first quarter. Estime took the first two carries of the second quarter, but his third touch of the day resulted in the fumble. Tyree took the lone carry on the next Irish drive. But after that, it was all Diggs. 

“I heard [offensive coordinator] Coach Rees and [running backs] Coach McCullough kind of say, hey, put Logan in the game right now. Let's go with Logan,” Freeman said. “Today we rode Logan, and he did a great job.” 

In a lethargic second half, the Irish never really pulled away. But, courtesy of their ground game, they gradually ran the Rebels out of Notre Dame stadium. After scoring on five of their first six drives, the Irish were scoreless on five of the next six. That led them to a frustrating 30-14 scoreline with the game remaining just within reach for the Rebels.

That was no longer the case after the next two drives, as the Irish milked the clock for a total of 12 minutes and 16 seconds, running 22 plays for 108 yards. Out of those 22, 19 were running plays. And of the 19? Diggs churned out 16 of them, earning the tough yards that brought the Irish their final two touchdowns. Diggs wasn’t rewarded with a touchdown though, as Tyree took home the first drive. A jet sweep to graduate student wide receiver Braden Lenzy finished off the final score, but Diggs remained the engine behind Notre Dame’s final efforts. Freeman lauded Diggs and the offensive line for the late-game effort.

“I know we wouldn't have had 130 yards without five guys up front doing their job,” Freeman said. “That’s something I believe in...I don’t care if the defense knows we’re going to run the ball. We have to find ways to get positive yardage, and we were able to do that late in the game.”

Diggs also offered a well-rounded effort when he wasn’t running the ball. When PFF released their grades for the game, Diggs’ 73.2 grade in pass-blocking was actually the high-water mark in his grades.

“First, it starts with Coach Deland [McCullough]. We work pass pro every day, punching the mid ball, blitz pickup with linebackers,” Diggs said. “We work on it every day. If you can’t pass pro, then you can’t play. Not at this level or any level.” 

Diggs has little time to relish his career-best performance. As his role grows, Diggs is a critical piece of Irish hopes in the coming weeks. To avoid falling below .500 again, Notre Dame needs to find a win either on the road versus No. 16 Syracuse, or the following week at home against No. 5 Clemson. Diggs and the Irish have seen a host of unexpected twists and turns, and have suffered a few gut punches this season. But, it’s all about the next game, the next carry for Logan Diggs. 

“There’s no looking back. There’s only looking forward. If this is what I want to do for a long time, then this is the time to do it. So I have to execute on my opportunity.”