That was over 10 years ago.
Multiple backs stayed fresh, offensive linemen were hungry for more yards and the Irish ranked consistently in the top-10 nationally in yards rushing and in the polls. This season could be somewhat of a reincarnation to the days where Lou Holtz subbed in multiple runners, but the production didn't drop off, as many talented backs look to succeed the departed Darius Walker. With a first-year starter at quarterback, and inexperience at receiver, the Irish will have to become a much better running team than they've been the past five seasons.
Running the football kept teams honest as Brady Quinn's arm picked defenses apart in head coach Charlie Weis's first two seasons at Notre Dame. That was okay for both of those teams, but not this year. The two years before Weis arrived at his alma mater, the Irish struggled to run the ball (and with many other things), and Tyrone Willingham lost his job. In 2002, the team's identity was with the defense, so even though a 10-win season was achieved, not fumbling was a bigger key than moving the rock.
The Irish will have to pound the pill this season if they want the continued success of the past two BCS seasons. It won't matter how good Corwin Brown's brand new 3-4 defensive scheme is if the offense keeps coming off the field after three plays.
Based off last season's statistics, if Notre Dame runs the football well, they will win games. Of the top-50 teams ranked nationally in rushing, 35 of them finished with winning records, and eight of the 10 made up the Bowl Championship Series teams. Only Notre Dame and Southern California did not finish in the top 50.
With questions on defense as well this year, if Notre Dame can monopolize the time of possession, really wear down the defense and mix in a mediocre air attack, the offensive production doesn't have to drop off.
Running back is the glaring strength heading into the season, and the young offensive line appears to be meaner and more talented than the one that has preceded it. They will take time to develop, but run blocking is easier to soak in than pass blocking.
Weis loves being creative with his offense and he has a boatload of guys in the backfield that do many different things. He will just have to decide when he is going to use what toy.
Senior Travis Thomas is the front runner to be the workhorse, while sophomore James Aldridge was giving a strong push during the spring. Throw in incoming freshman Robert Hughes, who at 230 pounds physically looks like he plays for the Chicago Bears, and Weis has three guys to take a toll on opposing defenses. Hughes will have to get a grasp on the playbook, but there are three guys that could make gaining yards in the fourth quarter a heck of a lot easier.
Then there is Junior Jabbie, who's MVP performance in the Blue-Gold game showed that he can run the ball when given the chance. He has always been caught up in a numbers game. This year that could be a good thing.
Armando Allen is the x-factor here. Notre Dame hasn't had a player of his style on offense since Julius Jones, and by style, that means homerun threat. The speedy freshman with 4.3 wheels could be the playmaker the Irish have been lacking at a skill position in quite some time. That speed everyone has been saying Notre Dame has been missing, Allen has it. Even if he doesn't know the whole playbook, he could absorb certain packages and be a threat that way.
Speaking of packages, look for Weis to move running backs all over the field. There will be some creative formations that give these guys the chance to best use their skills.
The fullbacks will also play a role, as the Irish change their image offensively from a team relying more on the running backs than the quarterback. Asaph Schwapp will be that lead blocker, and Luke Schmidt can help in both the running and passing games.
Weis always says he judges his offense on balance. This year, look for more screens and short passes to running backs and tight ends than the ball being chucked downfield.
One thing is certain, the Irish won't be running for 126 yards per game this seasons.