Two games later, the rushing yards per game has inched upward towards respectability. In wins over Purdue and Stanford, the Irish racked up an average of 171 yards. Darius Walker has busted past the 100-yard mark in the past two contests and is on pace for a 1,000-yard season. Granted, the two opponents didn't have the best run defenses in the nation. The Boilermakers are 90th and the Cardinal are dead last in the Division 1A. But the confidence appears to be back among the offensive line as they head into the second half of the season.
"You always have something to prove when you're playing," Santucci said. "You are only as good as your last game and as good as your last practice. Everyday is a new day and there's always something to prove.
"We played well as an offense last game. We need to keep building on that. It's great as a unit and as an offense. In football, on offense, all 11 guys have to do their job to have a successful play. It's great to see us moving the ball down the field. It's always fun to see and have fun in the huddle and be loose in the huddle."
After the Stanford win, head coach Charlie Weis called out Santucci as the best performer on the offensive line for that game. The holes were huge for Walker to run through as the junior running back totaled 153 yards, his second best performance on the ground ever.
"I just give credit to the rest of my offensive line," Santucci said about the callout from Weis. "We're a unit and I don't worry about personal achievements. We're a team. If it wasn't for (Ryan) Harris, (John) Sullivan, (Bob) Morton and (Sam) Young blocking well and Brady (Quinn) throwing well and Darius running well, that's when we're successful and all play well."
This week, the Notre Dame offensive line can assess where they're at. UCLA brings the 14th ranked rush defense to South Bend. In addition, the speedy Bruins unit is 19th nationally in sacks. Santucci and his fellow linemates will have a challenge on their hands Saturday afternoon. This week, with no classes for fall break, the Irish can spend as much time as they want preparing for UCLA with no NCAA hour limit in place. Weis compared it to a 9-to-5 job and sort of like a typical day for an NFL player.
"I'm not sure what it's like in the NFL but it's probably a lot like this," Santucci said. "Coach Weis does it because we have the time and to get in here and get a couple of workouts in and watch more film. We practice and then have the night to get off our feet and relax. It works well in the grand scheme of things."
*It might surprise some but it's not a wide receiver who leads Notre Dame in receptions. From the running back position, Walker has amassed a team-high 38 receptions. It's one better than wide receiver Rhema McKnight's 37. He's caught a ball in 21 straight games, the longest streak on the team. Weis said after the Stanford win, when Walker had six catches, that quarterback Brady Quinn will take what the defense gives them. At times, that's been Walker out of the backfield for the high percentage catch-and-run.
Walker just doesn't lead Notre Dame in pass receptions. Currently, the junior is 12th in the nation in the category but has the most per game of any running back in the Division 1A. Focus has been the key for Walker.
"Coming into the season, it was definitely something I wanted to improve on the season," Walker said. "My overall game was route technique and catching the ball out of the backfield, along with pass protection and running the football. It was something I focused on in the off-season and I'm glad the hard work is paying off."
Walker is just one weapon in the potent Irish attack. It's pick-your-poison for opposing defenses. All-American Jeff Samardzija and McKnight terrorize the secondary while tight end John Carlson is on pace to be near the single-season reception record for a tight end held now by Ken McAfee. In the passing game, Walker is reaping the benefits of all these explosive targets.
"We're very dynamic," Walker said. "Anybody can get the ball on offense. There are a lot of people you have to worry about. It keeps the defense off balance, whether we're going to run, pass, throw it to Jeff, throw it to Rhema, throw it to John…anybody could be out there."
*Useless stat of the week: Notre Dame is 9-5 all-time on October 21st. But, they've won the past four contests on this date.
*Average height of the Irish wide receivers/tight end: 6'4". Average height of the Bruins secondary: 5'11".