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Runaway problem

Chris Federico | Wednesday, October 8, 2003

The last time the Irish offense took the field, freshman quarterback Brady Quinn threw for a season-high 297 yards, but the Irish only scored 13 points in a losing effort to Purdue. Even with the newly-found production through the air, the Notre Dame offense still struggled, due in a large part to its inability to establish a running game.

“Throwing the football is great. It’s exciting. Fans love it,” Irish head coach Tyrone Willingham said. “But if you go by the statistics of it, usually if you’re throwing for 300, 350-plus yards, with no running game, then you usually don’t fare well.”

While Notre Dame made 62 pass attempts – the most since the 1960s – the offense struggled to move the ball on the ground. Notre Dame only gained 49 yards rushing against the Boilermakers, which ties the 49 rushing yards in the Michigan game for the team’s lowest output of the season. The Irish know they will have to be more productive on the ground if they are to beat Pittsburgh Saturday.

“Your passing game right now is probably your biggest plus, but if you’re going to continue to improve across the board, you’ve got to be able to run the ball,” Irish offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said. “I don’t think it can be a thing where you want to throw the ball 60 times a game. You have to develop a running game, and you’ve got to be patient with it sometimes.”

Right now, the Irish are still committed to running the ball effectively, even if that means hurting the production of the passing game. Willingham maintains that the Irish cannot give up on the running game at this point in the season, even when it may seem that few aspects of the scheme have worked well.

“We’ve got to be committed to the run, and we have to be patient with the run,” Willingham said. “And that’s very difficult to be patient, because the only thing that makes you really patient is success at it, and you want to stay with it.”

At some times, the Irish find themselves in difficult second- and third-down-and-long situations, due to the struggles with the running game. But Willingham just sees that as one aspect of the running game they need to improve to start winning games.

“On occasions, if you have to endure [second-and-long situations] to give you an opportunity to be successful, yes [we are willing to do that],” he said. “Because no one moans or groans when you throw one incompletion. But if you have one run of less than three or four yards, then the whole – and coaches are the same way – the world is, ‘gosh, they’re in a downslide.'”

The Irish are still confident that they have the tools to become a dominant rushing team. Even with an inexperienced offensive line, Notre Dame has a pair of talented running backs in a Julius Jones and Ryan Grant.

“We’re only going to go as far as our running game goes,” Grant said. “I’m adamant about that. We have a very talented backfield, and I think everyone knows we have a very talented backfield. It just shows that once we get things going how dynamic we can be as a team.”

For now, the Irish are committed to running the ball and running it effectively. Even if the passing game puts up hundreds of yards on its own, the Irish know they will see little success until they can move the ball on the ground first.

“You have to be able to run the ball to make things happen in college football,” Grant said.