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Football: Running to daylight

Chris Hine | Thursday, September 27, 2007

Notre Dame gained 117 yards on the ground Saturday against Michigan State by employing a situational rotation of running backs – and this week, offensive coordinator Michael Haywood said to expect more of the same against Purdue.

Haywood said the rotation calls for different backs to come in during situations that would maximize their strengths in the running game.

“All of those decisions are made prior to the game. We get into a situation and their rotation is already set,” Haywood said. “In the game the other day, there was a big run, and understanding the individual who made the big run, I just turned to the sideline and said, “33 [freshman Robert Hughes], you’re in.’ The rotation is already set and [tight end-coach Bernie] Parmalee sends the rotations in with all the other substitutions.”

Haywood said the rotation allows each back to have a role even though one individual may receive more carries than the rest of the group.

“The other day, [fifth-year senior] Travis Thomas goes in on goal line. He runs a run and runs it in for a touchdown around the left side. How excited is he and he only probably played eight to ten snaps,” Haywood said. “However, the other guys on the team are just as excited for him. [Sophomore] James Aldridge breaks down the left-hand sideline. All the guys on the sideline are excited for James Aldridge because they’re buying into their roles and when guys buy into their roles, you can improve as a team.”

Haywood, who previously coached at LSU and Texas, said the rotation system differs from what he saw at those two schools.

“There are different philosophies in every organization. We had a main back when we were at LSU; however we rotated backs in, and when one back got hot he stayed in and the other backs understand. At Texas, Cedric Benson carried 95 percent of the load,” Haywood said. “Here, at the University of Notre Dame, we have the opportunity to have multiple guys that can do a lot of different things. We have a couple power backs that as you can see from the game we rotated those guys in various situations, and each one of them had some success in their own rights.”

Against Michigan State, Notre Dame’s more physical running backs, Aldridge and Hughes, combined for 24 of Notre Dame’s 35 rushing attempts. Haywood said the number of carries Hughes and Aldridge received is indicative of the direction Notre Dame is trying to go with its running game.

“We’re trying to play a little bit more of a physical, downhill game and those guys are running the ball a little bit better downhill at this time,” Haywood said.

Aldridge ran for 103 yards while Hughes added 33 yards and a touchdown. Aldridge and Hughes will likely see significant carries against a Purdue team that allowed 232 yards rushing to Minnesota last week.

Aldridge said he did not wear down after carrying the ball 18 times against Michigan State, and the carries allowed him to develop a rhythm running the ball.

“Once you’re in the game for a while, you get used to it and kind of know what the defenders are going to do so you get in some type of flow,” Aldridge said. “But that also just comes from watching film and preparing off the field for the game also.”

Aldridge said the rotation helps all the running backs maintain that rhythm while getting rest between carries.

“It gives you a chance to kind of get your legs back for a couple plays, get your wind back,” Aldridge said. “And whenever your personnel is called again you get back out there and get back right into the flow that you’re in.”