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Jones helps carry Irish to victory

Pat Leonard | Monday, November 10, 2003

He wasn’t involved in any triple options or sideline pitch plays, but Julius Jones once again took Notre Dame on his back and carried the team – for the full four quarters – to victory.

Could he have continued to average 6.7 yards a carry if Saturday’s game had gone to overtime?

“I’d have to borrow legs from someone else,” Jones said.

Most Division I-A running backs would need a fresh set of legs after carrying the ball 33 times for 221 yards and two touchdowns like Jones did in a 27-24 Irish victory over Navy Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

Jones made Navy pay for its aggressive run defense twice, breaking 48 and 12-yard touchdown runs, respectively.

“Our game plan was to try to dominate the line of scrimmage and run the ball to keep their offense off the field,” Jones said. “In the first half we had an excellent drive but then started shooting ourselves in the foot. But we got back on track. The offensive line got comfortable, and I got comfortable back there. It is just amazing what can happen when we execute.”

Jones’ efforts have not gone unappreciated in the Notre Dame locker room.

“When an offensive lineman misses a block, and the running back runs over [his man], you feel bad because you know a 25 yard run could have been a touchdown,” center Bob Morton said.

Predominantly due to Jones’ performance, he, Ryan Grant (six carries for 16 yards), quarterback Brady Quinn (seven carries for 24 yards) and backup quarterback Carlyle Holiday (one carry, 16 yards) combined for 280 total yards on the ground.

Do the math and that is 42 yards more than the number-one rushing offense in the country could gain.

Notre Dame is traditionally a program that runs the ball, but the last time an Irish back carried more than 30 times was Ryan Grant’s performance in a victory at Air Force last season.

Nonetheless, the increased touches make Jones feel good. And the result makes him feel even better.

“It feels great [to play that well], but the best part is we got the win,” Jones said. “We worked hard this week, and we knew Navy would give everything they had because they do every single year.”

Navy knows Jones all too well.

He is the first Irish player to rush for more than 100 yards four times against one opponent since Autry Denson did it versus Navy from 1995-98.

“We had a lot of guys in the box, and we tried to stop them,” Navy coach Paul Johnson said. “He broke some tackles, and sometimes they caught us in a blitz. But we had to blitz to get pressure.”

Navy often brought an eighth man in from the secondary to slow Jones down and force the pass. Jones’ success, in turn, opened an effective scheme of play-calling for offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick and coach Tyrone Willingham.

“To have 100 yards in just about both halves, it’s what this football team needed,” Willingham said. “Because we got the run down, it made our play-action passes work that much better, and you notice that the majority of our passes probably came off play-action today.”

In turn, the passing game would eventually reopen the running lanes that Jones and Notre Dame would use to drive downfield on its under-two-minute, game-winning field goal drive.

“We knew we had to set up the passing game so that [Julius] could still have that fourth quarter that he did have,” Quinn said.

Jones got the call often when Notre Dame regained possession with the game tied and 1:54 on the clock. He carried the ball for eight yards on first down from the Irish 15. He caught a screen pass the next play for three yards and a first down.

Later, he would catch another screen for seven yards and have rushing gains of 12, 10 and one yards, respectively.

The one-yard run set up the D.J. Fitzpatrick game-winning 40-yard field goal.

“We need him,” Quinn said of Jones. “He is a big part of our offense.”

The last time an Irish player rushed for 200 yards or more was when Julius Jones amassed 262 yards against Pittsburgh this season. That was also the last time Notre Dame won.

Coincidence?