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Football Insider: Lack of running game kills Irish

Matt Gamber | Monday, November 24, 2008

Those looking to pinpoint the source of Notre Dame’s inability to close games need look no further than the running game.

The Irish rushed for 41 yards and gave up 170 on the ground to lowly Syracuse en route to blowing their third double-digit lead of the season Saturday.

“You have to be able to run the ball more consistently, especially when you get an opportunity to finish a team out,” Irish coach Charlie Weis said at his Sunday press conference. “I think that becomes critical. And I think we had too many runs for no gain or losing a couple yards that put us in a little bit of a bind.”

In their six victories, the Irish have averaged 164 rushing yards per game while outgaining their opponents by an average of 48 yards per game. Notre Dame has failed to rush for 100 yards as team just once in those six games and have eclipsed the 200-yard mark three times.

In their five losses, the Irish average 65 rushing yards per game – 85 yards less than their opponents. Notre Dame rushed for less than 70 yards in three of its losses and totaled at least 100 just once.

The ground game’s inconsistency has been a mystery all year. Just last week, the Irish racked up 230 total rushing yards against a hard-nosed Navy team.

“Depends week by week,” Weis said Sunday of the running game’s issues. “Like what were the problems [Saturday]? Because they weren’t the problems last week … Last week the running game was fairly efficient.”

But not against a Syracuse team that had given up 209 rushing yards per game. The Irish managed just 1 ? yards per carry against the nation’s 107th ranked run defense.

“We just went out and played. We really just played our game,” Orange coach Greg Robinson said after the game. “… I thought we knocked ’em around pretty good.”

Syracuse defensive tackle Arthur Jones, who had 15 tackles and four for a loss, added: “I had a blast. It was the best game I played I think, I had a lot of fun.”

Sophomore Armando Allen’s nine-yard scamper early in the third quarter was Notre Dame’s longest rush of the day. Neither James Aldridge (five carries) or Robert Hughes (none) gained a single yard.

“It seems like every time we made a play, we’d hurt ourselves,” Weis said. “I think we did have a little action there to the weak side, a couple of draws. But I think we couldn’t really get into a consistent flow … We never could establish in the running game itself, the true running game, the line of scrimmage.”

Notre Dame, and particularly its offensive line, can take comfort in the fact that the running attack has shown flashes in the form of 200-plus yard games against Purdue, Washington and Navy. But that doesn’t make it much easier to swallow another tough loss in which the ground game was utterly ineffective.

“It’s painful but we keep learning lessons,” junior right tackle Sam Young said. “It just keeps reinforcing to this team how important it is to finish teams off. Sooner or later we are going to learn, and whoever we take it out on, I feel bad for them.”