Joe Meixell | Friday, August 28, 2009
The running backs have been there, but the running game has not.
This year, with a stable of talented backs and one of the most experienced offensive lines in the nation, there is no excuse why the Notre Dame rushing attack can’t be just as much of a threat as the pass.
For several seasons the Irish offense has been plagued more than anything by an inability to run the football, and Irish coach Charlie Weis said it was a top priority in the offseason. “We looked back at all the teams that played in the BCS, took the highs and lows, and said, ‘here is what the teams in the BCS are doing,’ and those teams are averaging 4.6 yards per carry and we’re averaging 3.3,” Weis said.
Emerging as the top back over the past year is junior Armando Allen, who brings the most speed and pass-catching ability to the table. Allen led the team with 585 yards rushing in 2008 and averaged 4.4 yards per carry while also tallying the second most receptions on the team with 50.
“They’re all gunning for Armando,” Weis said. “Armando is the guy, you’re going to have to take it away from him first.”
Fighting for carries behind Allen are junior Robert Hughes and sophomore Jonas Gray. Freshmen Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick may also be a factor out of the backfield or in special teams.
“Those are all different types of backs. Allen is the small fast guy, Robert is the pounder, and Jonas is the guy who’s got a lot of both of them in him but with the least experience,” Weis said.
A huge change made during the offseason was the move of senior James Aldridge to fullback, hopefully providing a powerful short yardage or receiving threat in two back sets. A highly touted running back out of high school, Aldridge has struggled with injuries throughout his Irish career, but Weis said he took the change in stride.
“James has taken the new role very well, and was named the leader of that unit,” said Weis.
The final change of the winter took place with the hiring of a new running backs coach, with veteran Tony Alford coming in from Louisville. Alford has 14 years of experience coaching the position.
Weis said establishing a consistent running attack will have a positive impact on all the other offensive units.
“It all starts with the run game. If you can run the ball, everything is easier,” Weis said. “Protection is easier, throwing the ball is easier, everything is easier. It all starts with being able to control the line of scrimmage.”