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Football: Rushing game shows improvement from ’08

Michael Bryan | Monday, April 20, 2009

The scoring system in this year’s edition of the Blue-Gold game may have made the game seem more one-sided than was the case. The one thing that was evident, however, was the success and improvement of the Irish rushing attack in the 68-33 exhibition win for the offense.

The three-headed running back team of rising juniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes and rising sophomore Jonas Gray combined to dominate the scrimmage, rushing for a combined 268 yards on 53 carries. Hughes found the end zone twice and Gray once to lead the Blue team scoring, but it was Allen that was named the game’s Offensive MVP.

“We have a real talented group,” Allen said. “When any of us is on the field, nothing changes. We don’t lose a step.”

Allen also praised the efforts of the defense on Saturday, despite the lopsided score.

“I thought the defense played well,” he said. “I guess you could say the scoring system kinda screwed them over.”

The rushing attack was a focal point in spring practice after Irish coach Charlie Weis looked for common elements in successful teams this past season.

“[The running game] has been a major focus. 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 were averaging 4.6 yards per carry and we were averaging 3.3,” Weis said.

Weis also explained that each back brings different styles and abilities to the offense.

“[T]hose guys are different types of backs. Allen is the small fast guy, Robert is the pounder guy and Jonas is the guy who’s got a lot of both of them in him but with the least experience,” Weis said.

One reason for the apparent strides of the running back and blocking units may be new coaches Tony Alford and Frank Verducci. Alford joined the coaching staff this offseason after coaching running backs at Louisville, and Verducci brings 27 years of offensive line experience at the pro and collegiate levels to the ranks.

“Both of them are going to push you beyond the expectations you have for yourself,” Allen said.

Weis said he was pleased with the performance of the running attack, which he said would have a significant impact on other areas of the team.

“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.”

Honorary coach and former Notre Dame running back Reggie Brooks said he was impressed with the gains he saw from the running back corps in his time at spring practice.

“They are still young backs but I am definitely pleased with what I have seen.” Brooks said. “It has been a marked improvement.”