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Football: Running mates

Jay Fitzpatrick | Wednesday, October 29, 2008

So far this season, the Irish running game’s only real problem is one that most coaches wouldn’t mind having. Notre Dame has too many talented running backs.

This season, junior James Aldridge and sophomores Armando Allen and Robert Hughes have split time at tailback for Notre Dame, rushing for a combined 792 yards on 4.28 yards per carry.

They have shared the scoring, as well. Aldridge has found the end zone three times on the ground and Allen and Hughes each have a pair of touchdowns.

Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis said he rotates the trio because of the constant position battle that has gone on this season. As of right now, Allen is the No. 1 back for the spread-style offense and Aldridge is the go-to guy for the “pound it” package.

Hughes is the back-up for both packages.

Weis said the one thing he is most proud of in his team’s running game is its ability to run the ball in the smashmouth package in recent games. He said that some teams try to stack the box against the run when Aldridge and fullback Asaph Schwapp enter the game, but that has not always been successful for Irish opponents.

“When they know you’re going to run it and you still run it effectively, that sends a very good message, because they know you’re going to run it, and you’re still running it and gaining yards,” Weis said.

Even though Aldridge did not see much playing time earlier in the season, Weis said he has played his way into a much bigger role based on his performance in practices and recent games.

“I think for about the last month in practice he’s been getting better and better every day,” Weis said. “He’s been better when we go against the first defense when he’s gotten reps doing that. He’s been better in practice, and he’s been running with power in practice and [offensive coordinator Michael] Haywood has rewarded him by giving him more opportunities on the field.”

Last week against Washington, Aldridge was Notre Dame’s leading rusher – the first time this season he was tops for the Irish – with 84 yards on only 13 carries, two of which went for touchdowns.

“When somebody all of a sudden gets something going, you’re not looking to take them out just to take them out. So that’s where he is right now,” he said.

The fourth quarter of Saturday’s game against Washington also showcased Notre Dame freshman running back Jonas Gray, who had yet to see playing time earlier this season because of the team’s depth. Gray carried nine times for 61 yards (6.8 yards per carry) in mop-up duty against the Huskies.

Gray is especially important this week for Notre Dame because of his speed and quickness, both of which mirror Pittsburgh tailback LeSean McCoy. Weis said Gray will represent McCoy this week for the Notre Dame scout team.

“[Gray will] be wearing a big old 25. So just you might as well look at him this week and call him McCoy instead of calling him Gray because that’s who he will be this week in this practice,” Weis said.


uSenior wide receiver David Grimes told Weis earlier this week that he feels fully healed after back spasms kept him out of the Washington game.

“He intends to go this week, and we’ll see how those spasms are acting when he’s out there in practice, because I really don’t know the answer until after I see him running around out there,” Weis said of his offensive captain.

uLinebacker Brian Smith had a cognitive test after suffering a mild concussion against the Huskies. He will not be held out of any practices this week, but will have limited contact early in the week.

uWeis said he foresees linebacker Harrison Smith as David Bruton’s heir apparent at starting free safety, and told the sophomore what he needs to do to win the job next season.

“I told him, ‘You’re going to have to lose a little weight and get a haircut.’ I told him those are the two things that will probably have to go together for him,” Weis said.