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Running game is back at right time

Bobby Griffin | Monday, November 14, 2005

Notre Dame relied on quarterback Brady Quinn’s arm for two consecutive games against Brigham Young and Tennessee. But in Saturday’s 42-21 win against Navy, the Irish reestablished a running game that had been quiet in the team’s two previous victories.

Darius Walker led the Irish with his fifth 100-yard game of the season, rushing 19 times for 118 yards and a touchdown. Travis Thomas added 58 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries.

“We wanted to play more of a ball control game,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said. “You get towards the end of the year and you don’t know what the weather is going to be, you just can’t count on going out there slinging it on every play. We wanted to try to have some balance out there, to run it a little bit more than we were throwing it and I think we ran it fairly efficiently.”

Notre Dame ran the ball 39 times for 221 yards. The Irish time of possession was 28:25 – only the second time all season that an opposing team has controlled the clock against Notre Dame.

Quinn knew it would be important to establish the running game early. Notre Dame needed to keep the ball on offense to make sure its defense was fresh against Navy’s option attack.

“We knew that whenever they got the ball they were going to eat up a ton of the clock,” Quinn said. “Our defense was going to be out there for a good amount of time. So now when we get our there we need to score and be efficient but also kind of having similar long drives.”

These long drives also made the quarterback’s life a bit easier. Quinn, who has 27 touchdowns and five interceptions this season, enjoyed watching the running game click.

“Any time you have a balance like that and have the running game going for you, it allows you to relax and sit back and watch Darius and Travis,” Quinn said. “It’s kind of fun for me.”

Much of the success of the Irish running game rests on the shoulders of the offensive line that controlled the undersized Navy line throughout the game.

“We knew we wanted to run the ball because a lot of teams, future opponents, may say they can’t run the ball,” Irish offensive tackle Ryan Harris said. “We came out today and showed that we can run the ball if the game plan asks for it.”

The Irish coaching staff has shown an ability to adapt their offense to the weaknesses of the opposition all season. Because Navy was allowing Notre Dame to run the ball – unlike BYU or Tennessee – the Irish took advantage of it.

The 221 yards rushing were 81 yards better than Notre Dame’s 139.6 yards per game season average heading into the game. Thomas spoke about the importance of having a game like this going into the last few games of the season.

“We want to have a two-headed offense, you want to run and you want to pass,” Thomas said. “I think anytime we can do both of that, defenses are going to be nervous coming into the game.”

The last few games have been productive for Thomas. The junior has moved up on the depth chart to the point where he is now the power running back playing behind Walker.

“Something that I set as a goal for myself this year was to become a key player on offense,” Thomas said. “It makes me feel good that I’m doing well and I’ve made myself a player that the team can count on.”