Football: Walker runs all over Boilermakers
Eric Retter | Monday, October 2, 2006
Brady Quinn threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns, and Rhema McKnight caught a career-high ten passes for 120 yards. But running back Darius Walker carried the offense Saturday.
Walker carried the ball 31 times for 146 yards – both season highs – and rushed for a touchdown in No. 12 Notre Dame’s 35-21 win over Purdue. His yardage total surpassed his combined totals of the last three games, where he had managed only 128 yards on 41 carries, and it marked his 10th career 100-yard game.
The performance was his second-best career rushing total and his first 100-yard game since the 2005 regular season finale against Stanford when he picked up a personal-best 186 yards on 35 carries. But his effectiveness wasn’t limited to the ground. Walker also caught 9 passes for 73 yards – both career highs – and he is now tied with wide receiver Rhema McKnight for the team lead in receptions with 32.
“I definitely think I got into a rhythm as the game went on, especially being able to touch it from different facets [of the offense],” Walker said.
Walker touched the ball on the first play from scrimmage and didn’t stop getting it until the end of the game, by which point he had racked up 41 touches and accounted for 219 of the Irish’s 454 total offensive yards.
“It’s nice, it’s really nice [to get ball so much],” he said. “At the same time, it’s a lot of work, running the ball, catching the ball, blocking, all of that, but it’s definitely a running back’s responsibility and I definitely welcome the challenge.”
Walker’s success changed the fortunes of an Irish ground game that has struggled.
“It was very important to me [to have a strong game],” Walker said. “We really wanted to make a conscious effort to start fast so we could work on our running game and work on our offense, and I think we achieved that.”
Walker was the primary reason the Irish got off to a strong start on Saturday, as he got the ball in 11 of Notre Dame’s first 12 plays from scrimmage. During Notre Dame’s initial drive, Walker accounted for every yard except the final 11 that freshman George West picked up on an end-around that went for a score.
But Walker was not upset that he wasn’t allowed to finish the drive.
“To be honest I always want the ball, but that’s the great thing about our offense, anyone can get it in,” he said.
Irish coach Charlie Weis said he planned to run the ball as much Notre Dame did on Saturday every week.
“I think that when it’s all said and done, every time you play the game, you like to have balance,” Weis said. “When you come out there and say you’re going to establish the run and run it on every down, you usually have a good chance.”
Despite Notre Dame’s struggles with the ground game entering Saturday’s contest, Purdue coach Joe Tiller wasn’t surprised that Notre Dame elected to pound it away with Walker.
“They really like their tailback,” he said. “I think I would let the big dog hunt if I were in their corner.”
As a by-product of Walker’s success, the pressure on the Notre Dame passing game abated, and the Irish air attack excelled.
“It opened the [air] game up tremendously,” McKnight said. “Darius having a big game definitely set me, Jeff [Samardzija] and Chase [Anastasio] up a whole heck of a lot.”
Weis echoed McKnight’s remarks.
“[When] now they’re going to look to stopping the run, your play actions and things like that, now they become a little easier to complete,” he said.
Walker credited his teammates for his individual accomplishments.
“I really give kudos to my offensive line,” he said. “I’m really just a guy who gets the ball and runs through space.”
He also understood that success of the Notre Dame offense rested on more than just him improving.
“It has to be the focus of 11 players out there,” he said. “Each player knows that they have to do their job and do it right.”
Walker took a brief moment to celebrate the performance. Asked if the Purdue defensive unit hit him harder than the gauntlet the Notre Dame running backs run through during practice, he had a quick answer.
“Definitely the gauntlet,” he said.