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Allen back at full speed Saturday

Matt Gamber | Monday, September 29, 2008

It’s been more than two years, he said, but sophomore running back Armando Allen is back.

Allen totaled a career-best 247 all-purpose yards Saturday, including 134 rushing on 17 carries, in his most explosive performance since a left ankle injury robbed him of his senior high school season.

“This off-season I really worked on strengthening my ankle,” Allen said, who was bothered by the injury for parts of his freshman season. “I came into spring ball feeling very confident … but now that I feel better, I think I can produce.”

Allen looked so little like the player who ran for just 71 yards in the season’s first three games that Irish coach Charlie Weis could only ask on the sideline, “Where you been?”

“We talk about it all the time,” Allen said. “I practice hard and sometimes in games it doesn’t go as well as we planned, but today everything was going well.”

Not just for Allen, but for an offensive line that “took it personal” when the Irish mustered only 16 yards on the ground last week at Michigan State, Weis said.

“The line of scrimmage was moving the wrong way last week … but they did something about it,” Weis said.

Junior right tackle Sam Young said the unit agreed to “passionately find a way” to make strides in the running game, and 201 team rushing yards later, it

“Anytime you get the run game going, it’s positive for the offensive line,” Young said. “It’s a fun game, and it’s meant to be played with emotion.”

Notre Dame came out of the halftime intermission with that mindset, and after sophomore quarterback Jimmy Clausen completed a pair of long passes to the Purdue 45 yard-line, it was three straight gives to Allen, capped by a 16-yard burst through a gaping hole on the right side that got the Irish into the end zone for a 21-14 lead.

“Brilliant,” Young said. “Our job is to make Armando’s job easy. He found the holes and just skated right through them.”

Allen showed the big-play capability that netted him a scholarship to Notre Dame in the first place, both out of the backfield and on kick returns.

He returned four kick-offs for a total of 105 yards, including two he nearly took to the house following Purdue touchdowns.

Allen’s 35-yard return in the second quarter set the Irish up at the 35 yard-line following a Boilermakers touchdown that put Notre Dame down 14-7. His 36-yard scamper to the 46 yard-line put his team in good position to extend its 28-21 lead in the third.

“We take pride in our special teams,” Allen said. “We haven’t had a kickoff return in a long time, so I think that’s one of our goals this year. Each week we’re getting closer and closer, so now we’re just waiting for that big one.”

Before Saturday, the same could have been said about Allen as a running back – his longest career rush was 15 yards. But he shredded a Boilermakers defense decimated by injuries at linebacker for four runs of at least that distance.

“That was awesome,” junior guard Eric Olsen said. “Any time you can get a big run it makes everybody feel great. Sometimes there are games when you just have to throw the ball the whole time and the defense can just tee off on you, so any time you can run the ball it’s great.”

And it wasn’t just Allen who enjoyed the fruits of the offensive line’s labors. Junior James Aldridge (8 carries, 34 yards) and sophomore Robert Hughes (9 carries, 26 yards) each ran with infinitely more success than they did a week ago against the Spartans.

“Our backfield is full of talent, so no matter who’s in the game you’re going to get the same production,” Allen said.

It was his day, though, as the Irish spread the field and allowed Allen to find space on a heavy diet of stretch plays that called for him to get outside the tackle box and use his speed.

“We went out there today, with the offense a little more spread out, and it really felt comfortable,” Allen said. “It really gave me the opportunity to go out there and do what I can do best.”