Thomas To Get Familiar USC Call

Two years ago, head coach Charlie Weis knew that monopolizing the time of possession against USC would be key in upsetting the top-ranked Trojans. That meant, going into that week, backup running back Travis Thomas figured into the mix moreso than at any other time in his career.

Thomas's number was called often, and he carried the ball admirably against a very stout defense, playing a huge role in Notre Dame's near upset.

Weis needed Thomas then, and he needs the fifth-year senior again this Saturday against No. 9 USC (5-1).

Weis wanted to pound the football against USC two years ago, and Thomas's down-hill style was the perfect compliment or change of pace to then starter Darius Walker. Thomas carried the ball 18 times for 52 yards and a touchdown, as the Irish owned the time of possession, 38:40 to 21:20, in the dramatic 34-31 loss.

That game is still the most times the 6-foot 216-pound Thomas has carried the ball in his career. A few weeks later he ran 11 times for a career-high 58 yards in a win over Navy. That could all change this weekend, and is proof, that with good blocking, Thomas is a capable runner.

Notre Dame's (1-6) starting running back James Aldridge is doubtful for the game with a high-ankle sprain. Weis has mentioned in the past that freshman Robert Hughes is the closest of the other four Notre Dame running backs to being the complete package that Aldridge is. Hughes, classmate Armando Allen and senior Junior Jabbie have played more in recent weeks than Thomas has based on what the game situations have dictated. At his Tuesday press conference this week, Weis said this particular scenario with Aldridge possibly being out could call upon experience, something Thomas has and the others don't.

"Well, I think what we would not do this week, since this is USC, is just throw Robert in and Armando (Allen) in there right off the bat," Weis explained. Jabbie has been more of the third-down back. "I think that we would go a little heavier with Travis (Thomas) being involved in this mix, too, more than he has this year. I think that that would be part of that combination. I'm not saying by committee, but I think that he would probably take off some of the pressure of James, and obviously Robert and Armando would be much more involved."

Thomas hasn't really been involved in the offense since losing his starting job after the Georgia Tech game. He has just 18 carries for 20 yards this season, as the Irish rank last in the nation in rushing. Not a good sign, because USC's defense ranks fifth nationally against the run.

"I'm pretty fresh right now," Thomas said. He did score Notre Dame's first offensive touchdown of the season, a one-yard run against Michigan State in game four. "All I've been doing is goal line and short yardage. My body feels good so I'm just excited and up for the challenge."

Not playing has been a real challenge for the Irish captain, who has also been involved heavily in special teams.

"Obviously you want to be on the field as much as you can, and as a runner you want the ball in your hands as much as you can," Thomas explained. "But like I said, I'm here to help the team win. Whatever role I need to play in order to make that goal accomplished I'm up for it."

Weis is hoping so this weekend.


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