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Football: Thomas finds end zone on lone carry

Bobby Griffin | Monday, October 30, 2006

BALTIMORE – If a statistic for red-zone rushing efficiency among linebackers existed, Notre Dame senior Travis Thomas would be at the top of the list.

Actually, he would be the only one on the list given his unique situation as a dual-threat running back-linebacker. The last two times Thomas, Notre Dame’s starting strong side linebacker, has touched the ball as a running back – he has scored.

“It’s a return to what I do,” Thomas said after the game Saturday. “That’s what I’ve done from the start, and it just feels natural to me.”

Thomas scored on a 16-yard off tackle run in the second quarter against Navy Saturday, his first carry since a two-yard score against Penn State Sept. 16.

The senior linebacker – who still considers himself a running back at heart – was limited to playing defense after suffering a rib injury against Michigan State.

Irish coach Charlie Weis wanted Thomas to get healthy before giving him reps at running back. Weis was more concerned about Thomas regaining speed and strength on the defensive side of the ball than getting him involved offensively.

“He never really lost his spot, he was back into it this week because last week was his game to get back full time on defense,” Weis said. “This week I was able to flip it back over and practice him some on offense.”

And when Thomas’ number was called to touch the ball – he made something happen.

“[The scoring play] was his play,” Weis said. “He has certain plays he would be in for, that happened to be one of them.”

But senior offensive tackle Ryan Harris spoke more in depth about what challenges Thomas presents when he enters the game on offense. Harris credited his teammate’s talent and ability to make plays on both sides of the ball.

“He’s in some of our packages, when he’s in the game, he’s just a phenomenal athlete, and he can make things happen,” Harris said. “It’s always great to get off the ground and see somebody in the end zone and we’re happy he got into the end zone.

“A guy like that, it’s good to see good things happen to him.”

Notre Dame established the run early against Navy Saturday, much of the credit going to starting running back Darius Walker. After a quiet 21 carries for 53 yards in Notre Dame’s 20-17 win over UCLA, Walker responded with 20 carries for 103 yards. Walker also caught three passes out of the backfield for 32 yards.

So how exactly does Thomas define his type of plays?

“I like my play to be a touchdown every time,” Thomas said matter-of-factly.

But while Thomas received attention for his powerful score on offense, his primary job Saturday was not establishing the run, but stopping it.

The Irish defense struggled in the first half limiting Navy’s option attack. The Midshipmen controlled the clock, keeping the ball on offense for 16:31 compared to Notre Dame’s 14:29. But the Irish made adjustments in the second half and kept the ball for 17:10 in the third and fourth quarters.

“[Navy’s offense is] a lot faster, and there’s not many reads they have as opposed to a traditional offense,” Thomas said. “It’s just making the reads you have faster.”

Because Thomas is responsible for being a reliable linebacker on defense and providing the Irish with explosive running when necessary on offense, the senior is in a unique position where he is both taking and receiving hits. But Thomas made clear Saturday which of the two prefers.

“If you’re running well and it’s a good play, and it’s a stalemate but the other guy gets the worst of it, I think you can like that,” Thomas said. “But I don’t think any running back likes to be hit. I would rather deliver a hit.”