From 1982-85, there were two constants in Notre Dame football. One was the up-and-down performance of the Irish throughout the Gerry Faust era. The other was the indomitable spirit of Irish running back Allen Pinkett.
Pinkett burst onto the Notre Dame football scene as a freshman in ’82, teaming up with Phil Carter in the running game early in the season, and then leading the Irish to an upset road victory over No. 1 Pittsburgh and quarterback Dan Marino in November. His 76-yard touchdown run sparked Notre Dame’s 31-16 victory.
Over the next three seasons/35 games, Pinkett averaged 22 carries and 102.8 yards rushing per game with an average of 15 rushing touchdowns per season for a struggling Irish program that was characterized by the then-familiar phrase, “Pinkett, Pinkett, pass, punt.”
By the time Pinkett walked out the door, he had accumulated 4,131 yards rushing and 49 rushing touchdowns, the latter figure still a Notre Dame record. One decade later, along came Autry Denson into the Notre Dame fold, and Denson ultimately would move past Pinkett on the all-time Irish rushing list by less than 200 yards.
A third-round draft choice of the Houston Oilers, Pinkett played six years in the NFL, rushing for 2,624 yards and 21 touchdowns to go along with 119 receptions.
Now in his 12th season covering Notre Dame football on the radio for IMG, Pinkett teams with veteran play-by-play man Don Criqui for every Irish game.
Here are Pinkett’s thoughts on Notre Dame’s 62-27 victory over UMass with a look ahead to this weekend’s big game at Clemson.
Playing at Notre Dame, you have a target on your back every week because of your tradition and all the things that come with that, which is what makes “sandwich” games like UMass (between Georgia Tech and Clemson) a bit tricky.
It makes people’s season to beat Notre Dame. Coming into Notre Dame Stadium, these teams aren’t intimidated; they’re inspired because they know they’ve got a national-television and radio-listening audience. It’s one of those games (opponents) point to all the time.
It’s like, ‘Here’s where I’m really going to show off. Here’s where I’m going to give my best effort.’ So as a Notre Dame player, he’s got to be ready to accept that challenge.
The plus side is it’s great preparation for the pros. The schedule that they have is one helluva recruiting tool because when you get to the pros, there are no bad teams; there are just teams with bad records. They all have studs on them.
So we may call it a sandwich game, but you’ve got to be ready to take everybody’s best shot. Most of the guys that come to Notre Dame understand that. They understand you can’t just show up and expect to win. You don’t have teams that come into Notre Dame Stadium that think, ‘Okay, we already lost.’ They’re going to have to do it on the field, all the time, regardless of the opponent. You’re going to get everybody’s best shot, and that’s what you want.
Coming in 0-2, UMass had nothing to lose, so they were going to open up their playbook. Their quarterback (Blake Frohnapfel) is a top-flight quarterback. It’s the best passing quarterback Notre Dame has seen so far this season. Their receiver – although we did do a decent job of keeping Tajae Sharpe in check – is a quality receiver. UMass played hard, but they just don’t have the talent level that Notre Dame has, and over the course of the game, talent usually wins out.
In short, the best way to describe Notre Dame’s offensive line is dominant. They’re big and athletic, and against UMass, the formula for success was always going to be running the football. The benefit to that is that the one thing that travels well is the running game.
We got a little spoiled by a great appearance by DeShone Kizer against Georgia Tech. This kid is still just going into his third start. He’s got a lot of growing to do and a quarterback’s best friend is always a good running game. The running game can actually assist in his development because when you run the football well, that just sets up everything else. It sets up the play-action, it controls the game, it controls the clock. It allows (Kizer) to develop and learn the nuances of the game as he goes along.
Both Kizer and Frohnapfel had time to go through their progressions. The offensive line gives them time to read the defense, and Kizer is very comfortable sitting in that pocket and he knows how to step up in that pocket. For Kizer, it’s all do to the fact that those guys block so well. They block out the sun.
Clearly, C.J. Prosise benefits from having a good offensive line. So much for his transition from receiver to running back. One of the things I like about Prosise is how patient he is when he runs, but then when he does make the decision, that 220 pounds comes and hits you. When he has to rely on his speed, it’s a beautiful thing to watch. He’s that rare back that has the combination of size and speed. It looks like he’s been playing running back all along. It makes me think, ‘Why the heck did we have him at wide receiver?’
It aids his job tremendously because he gets good push by the offensive line, which enables him to take his time to make his reads, but then when he does make the reads, it’s all him now.
Notre Dame is trying to be careful about the number of touches Prosise is getting without Tarean Folston in the mix. It’s different than when I played. The guys are bigger and stronger, and the physical impact is greater. You never saw a 220-pound safety, which you see now, and that takes a toll on a running back.
There is a number over the course of a season that you want to try to limit the wear and tear on the running backs, and I think it’s between 20 and 25.
It takes about 10 carries before you get acclimated into the game, and when you’re the lead back, sometimes you run a certain play and you make a mistake on the read and you put that in your memory banks and you know, ‘Okay, when I run that thing the next time, this is what I’m going to do.’ You become creative.
When you’re the backup, it’s a little tougher because you’ve got to make the right read right now because you might not get another opportunity. I’ve done both. You get a little more leeway as the lead back. If you know you’re going to carry it 20-some times, that gives you a certain amount of confidence to go out there and know that you can miss a couple of reads but that at some point you’re going to break one.
Against Georgia Tech, you saw C.J. Prosise, when he was running the ball close to the goal line, started to feel it. He got in his rhythm and he signaled to the coach, ‘Keep feeding me! Keep feeding me!’ That’s a wonderful feeling to have as a running back. When you’re in that zone, it’s please give me the ball because the game has slowed down. I can see everybody crossing my face. I can see the play developing. Just give me the ball and I can make some stuff happen.
I believe the Notre Dame defense has a chance to be pretty good, but up to this point, it’s come in shifts. Against Texas and Georgia Tech, they had that laser focus from the first snap of the ball. They were totally dominant.
I’m not going to say they were lax against Virginia. Virginia did a good job of trying to confuse them with formations and motions and creating mismatches. With UMass, the trick plays are designed to throw the defense off-balance. Trick plays work, which is why you can only pull them every now and then.
I’m not worried about the defense because when they were in situations like Texas and Georgia Tech, and they had that laser focus, they were a stifling unit. I believe there’s a very good chance that that’s the defense we’ll see at Clemson.
Before the season, the Clemson game was the one I circled as the one I can’t wait to experience. It’s going to be a great venue, a great atmosphere. I liken it to Oklahoma in 2012, Florida State in 2002, Florida State last year…Truly memorable settings and memorable games.
I tell people all the time Notre Dame doesn’t have road games; they have a road show. Usually, half the stadium is going to be Notre Dame fans and they’re going to have an alumni hotel, a team hotel, and they’re going to set up the bookstore…all that stuff.
But with a game of this magnitude in this setting, these fans aren’t putting their tickets on StubHub. It’s going to be a very unfriendly environment, and that’s exactly the type of environment that these guys love. That hasn’t changed since I’ve been in school. They love that type of environment. They love going into a stadium where all the odds are stacked against them, where they have to go and take over that stadium. Notre Dame won’t be intimidated.
Clemson puts guys in the NFL. You’re going to be playing against top-rate talent. The fans are going to be crazy. You’re going to see nothing but orange. This is one of those ‘that’s why you came to Notre Dame’ games.
The mystique of Notre Dame is you win games like this. That’s how different teams make their mark in Notre Dame history. You win games like this. We’ll see if Notre Dame can add to that history.