Under 20 Again?

Our 16th pre-season prediction reviews the dearth of rushing scores at the program over the last decade...and acknowledges it will continue in 2011.

In 1998, senior tailback Autry Denson concluded his college career with a three-touchdown performance in a Gator Bowl loss to Georgia Tech. The final of the three marked Denson's 18th rushing touchdown of the '98 campaign.

Rushing scores, however, had begun to dip at the program during Denson's final two years. The Irish as a team rumbled for 63 rushing TD during his freshman and sophomore seasons under Lou Holtz, but just 47 over his final two years, which coincided with the first of Bob Davie's career, and not coincidentally, followed the ill-advised firing of renowned offensive line coach, Joe Moore.

Predictably, the team's single-season rushing scores have not since approached the run-heavy offenses of the Holtz era, nor even the better days of Davie's tenure.

Charlie Weis' offensive juggernaut of 2005 notched 21 rushing touchdowns in 12 games. The number represents the minimum during the school's run-heavy past, yet no Irish team has approached the total since.

The 2011 group won't either, which brings us to the next prediction in our summer series…

Prediction # 16 – Under 20 Again

Notre Dame's 11 rushing touchdowns last season tied a modern-era low, with the sobering addendum that the total matched the moribund 2007 squad…and the 2010 group enjoyed the added benefit of an extra contest and rushing score in December's Sun Bowl.

To date, the 2011 Irish roster has produced just seven rushing scores among its ranks: four from senior quarterback Dayne Crist; three courtesy junior running back Cierre Wood.

I'm on record that Wood will total 10 scores this fall, though I believe at least three will occur on pass receptions.

Can Wood, Jonas Gray, the team's quarterback of choice, and the occasional backfield contributor fight their way to a collective 20 rushing scores? A review of the program's past decade suggests it's a tall task:

  • 2000: One of the four most successful Irish teams of the last 11 seasons, the 2000 Fiesta Bowl participants scored 24 of their 46 total touchdowns on the ground, with sophomore Julius Jones' 7 rushing scores leading the charge.
  • 2001: One of the three worst offenses in the school's modern era – Bob Davie's final team scored just 20 total touchdowns, 16 were rushing scores. (Jones again led the way with 6.)
  • 2002: Future Pro Bowl ‘back Ryan Grant rushed for nine of the team's 15 ground scores for the 10-win Irish. (Notre Dame scored 35 touchdowns in '02, nine from its defense and special teams.)
  • 2003: Another poor offense, with Jones' 5th season producing 10 of the team's then-record low 13 rushing scores.
  • 2004: Freshman Darius Walker's seven rushing scores paced a team that produced 17 rushing and 17 passing touchdowns.
  • 2005: A minor rebirth in ground production saw Weis' best team scored a whopping 58 touchdowns; 21 on the ground with Walker's 9 serving as a team best.
  • 2006: The beginning of the end for the Notre Dame rushing attack: 14 rushing scores among the 55 total touchdowns for a 10-3 squad. Walker scored seven of the 14 with no Irish player matching his individual total since.
  • 2007: 11 rushing scores and just 26 overall. Travis Thomas led the way with five ground scores.
  • 2008: Another 11 touchdown season, though 40 scores overall topped five other teams during the decade.
  • 2009: Just 13 of 44 total touchdowns were rushing scores.
  • 2010: Though the running game was technically more productive than any at the school since 2005, only 11 of the team's 41 scores came courtesy of Kelly's ground game.

Can Wood, Gray and the rest of the Irish reach the 20 touchdown plateau? Of course its plausible, in fact, I think Kelly's Irish will score between 45-50 touchdowns this fall. But Notre Dame hasn't shown a consistent goal line toughness since the turn of the century, and the school hasn't produced a reliable goal line back since Rashon Powers-Neal was suspended midway through the 2005 season.

Prediction #16 is the fourth of the lot to cast doubt upon the Irish, and Gray and Wood could prove this one false…

But I'll take my chances.

BCS Breaking Point?

Last season's 10 BCS Bowl participants shared a common trait: Each scored a minimum of 20 rushing touchdowns, regardless of their chosen offensive system.

  1. Wisconsin: 48
  2. Oregon: 42
  3. Auburn: 41
  4. TCU: 41
  5. Stanford: 34
  6. Virginia Tech: 30
  7. Ohio State : 27
  8. Oklahoma: 23
  9. Arkansas: 22
  10. Connecticut: 20

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