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Football: Ground game keys Irish victory

Bill Brink | Monday, November 17, 2008

This game featured bizarro football.

Navy, statistically the second-best rushing team in the nation coming into the game, sputtered on the ground. The Midshipmen only rushed for 178 yards, 130 yards below their season average. Neither Jarod Bryant or Ricky Dobbs led the option offense effectively at quarterback.

Notre Dame, on the other hand, rushed for 230 yards (114 more than its average), averaged 4.5 yards per carry and spread those yards between its three running backs.

Irish coach Charlie Weis decided at halftime that the offense, which had not accomplished much in the first half, needed a change. He said he watched Navy’s previous games and thought Navy would use a coverage similar to when Navy played Rutgers – a soft Cover-2 zone that took away deep passes and left the rush and short passes open.

“That’s basically what we ended up getting. In the first half, we were trying to throw the ball down the field, but they were playing a soft shell and dropping eight a lot of times and there weren’t very many windows,” Weis said. “I came in at halftime and told them we were going to spread it out and we were going to run the ball until I get sick of running it.”

Weis never got tired of running it. The Irish gained 147 yards on the ground in the second half.

“It was great,” said running back Armando Allen, who finished with eight carries for 60 yards and a touchdown. “We practice with each other every day so we know that we can do it, but to go out there and perform was just amazing.”

Allen got his share of the carries in the beginning of the third quarter, accounting for 44 yards of Notre Dame’s first drive, including an 11-yard touchdown run through a huge hole on the right side of the field.

“You just come from halftime and the coaches say we’re going to run the ball,” Allen said. “We haven’t had an opportunity to run the ball as good as we know we can so to go out there and run the ball and be on the same page is great.”

Allen also caught seven passes for 60 yards and played a large role in the “dink-and-dunk” passing game Weis ran in the second half. The offense ran short passes in the flat, over the middle or behind a screen, and Allen took a couple of those screen passes for first downs.

“When they talk about throwing the ball, the first thing on my mind is pass protection,” he said. “I got to block. But just to go out the backfield and be able to catch the ball is also a plus for me.”

On the next drive, Weis gave running back Robert Hughes a turn. Hughes rushed six straight times, the last resulting in a seven-yard touchdown run. Hughes finished with 64 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.

“It felt good,” Hughes said. “Whenever you can get everybody in the rotation and get going in the run game is great.”

James Aldridge, who led the team in carries and yards (16 for 86) rushed six times for 30 yards on Notre Dame’s final scoring drive.

Near the end of the game, Weis decided to give freshman running back Jonas Gray a chance to carry the ball. Gray rushed for 16 yards on seven carries and had a chance to punch the ball in from the two-yard line but fumbled.

“It’s 27-7, we got the ball on the two-yard line, first and goal, I think we should expect to score,” Weis said. “When you don’t get some guys an opportunity to carry the ball in pressure situations, you can’t make a judgment on where you are with them. I think that in that situation right there I would have liked to see us run it in with the guys we had in there.”