The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Hughes earning approval of coaches, fans

Chris Hine | Friday, September 19, 2008


That chant – heard every time sophomore running back Robert Hughes carries the ball – has bellowed from the student section 35 times this season, and Hughes has been listening each time.

“I definitely like it, just to get the crowd into it, to know they’re having fun in the stands,” Hughes said Tuesday after practice. “It’s entertainment and I appreciate the fans getting behind it and it definitely helps the offensive line. They get behind it and it helps me run better, it motivates me.”

But coming into the season, it was hard to tell how many times the students would get to yell that chant. Hughes, a powerful runner who’s rushed for 139 yards in two games, is one of three running backs the Irish use. The other two, sophomore Armando Allen, more of a speed back, and junior James Aldridge, a combination of Allen and Hughes, haven’t seen as many carries as Hughes has thus far.

But that still doesn’t mean Hughes will get the most carries from now on.

According to offensive coordinator Michael Haywood, the situation of the game dictates which back gets on the field, and in a driving rainstorm against Michigan, the situation called for a slower but tougher back.

“We get into a situation where there’s a downpour and you have to pound the football, and when you have to pound the football it goes to two people, James Aldridge or Robert Hughes because that’s not Armando Allen’s type of game,” Haywood said.

And when Notre Dame is near the goal line, Hughes is also called upon. Against Michigan, Hughes scored twice on short touchdown runs. So will the goal line one day become Robert Hughes’ territory?

“I wouldn’t say that,” Hughes said. “I’d say it’s Notre Dame’s territory. Because our goal is to get the ball in the end zone every time we’re inside the 20-yard line … Your mentality is always score, no matter where you are on the field, you want to score. Whether you drive the ball in 13 plays or one play, you have to score.”

Even if he doesn’t get the most carries every game, the coaching staff has shown that it trusts Hughes to shoulder a high percentage of the workload in the backfield, something Hughes has worked hard for since coming to Notre Dame from Hubbard High in Chicago.

“I rely more on just my eyes and making the right reads and the right cuts,” Hughes said. “In high school, it was all instincts. Now, the game has changed. You have to use proper technique, you have to lower your pad level.”

Lowering his pad level has been a constant point of emphasis for Hughes. All of the power he generates when he runs could be negated if he runs straight up, allowing a defender to easily send him backwards. But by working to lower his pad level, Hughes has tried to use that power to gain yardage after contact.

“[I’ve worked on] finishing runs and lowering may pad level. I worked on it going into spring ball … I’ve tried to do it, but you can always get better at it,” Hughes said. “You always want to make sure you’re finishing through with positive yards. Those two or three yards are the difference between third and one and a first down.”

If Hughes can get those pads down, he can help Notre Dame by doing a little more of his favorite thing.

“Getting points on the board,” he said.