Turning a Corner

The outcome of the Notre Dame-USC contest wasn't in doubt late in the fourth quarter. The Trojans had put the game away a long time ago en route to their sixth straight win in the rivalry series. The Irish offense had been sputtering all afternoon, both in the air and on the ground. Freshman Armando Allen, though, showed some fight late and is starting to figure out the college game.

Allen carried the ball six times on the drive for 33 yards, which exceeded the Notre Dame rushing total for the entire day. The freshman, whose speed has been utilized on the outside, got most of the yards between the tackles. Allen, who might have earned additional carries for the last four games, was trying to send a message.

"The last drive for me, the goal I was trying to accomplish for me and send to my teammates, even though we were down 38 points, was no matter what the score is, we should never give up," Allen said on Tuesday. "We shouldn't lay down the on ground and say, ‘Well, we already lost the game so we might as well stop playing.' The biggest message I was trying to send is that I'm always going to go out and play my hardest like it's my last drive ever."

Allen led all Notre Dame running backs with 58 yards on 11 carries for an average of 5.3 yards per rush. For the nation's worst ground attack, it was the second-highest yardage total of the season for any Irish player. Sophomore James Aldridge rushed for 104 yards and a touchdown in the loss to Michigan State.

Allen's speed and big-play potential has drawn praise from head coach Charlie Weis. But the freshman has not got a lot of opportunities to show it on game days because of the inefficiencies on offense. For Allen, the youngster might be turning a corner about making plays for this Irish team on Saturdays.

"In practice I felt that Armando was playing at a much faster speed than he was playing at in the games," Weis said. "In practice, he was playing at a fast speed, because the pace of practice is a little bit slower than the pace of the game.

"So Coach (Mike) Haywood had some serious talks about it, and they started working on it. The last couple of games he seems now to be playing with that same type of speed and quickness on game day that I see out of him in practice."

Allen, who is the team's second-leading rusher with 184 yards and first with a 4.0 yards per rush average, can feel the "information overload" that freshmen experience in their first year starting to wear off.

"When you go out on the field as a freshman, you're going over a lot of plays," Allen said. "It may seem like a million plays and you're trying to remember them instead of playing football. I was thinking about every little move that I have to make. Football is more instinct. You don't try to go out there and think about every little thing that you're going to do. Now that I get the playbook and know what's going on, it slowed down the game for me a little bit.

"I felt like in high school, you could get on the field and let your athletic ability take over everything. But it took me eight games in college for me to know to really study the playbook and study your opponent so you're able to use your athletic ability to get away from certain situations."

Allen is four games away from completing a full freshman year. The Opa Locka, FL native enrolled early in January in order to go through spring practice. Allen didn't play his senior year in high school because of an injury. The freshman got to go through the college experience a semester earlier than almost all of the teammates in his recruiting class. Finally, the bye has come for Notre Dame after eight straight weeks of games. Allen is looking forward to a little R&R.

"I think I'll let my body rest," Allen said. "More importantly, I'll get away from football for a little bit. I'll relax and prepare to beat Navy."

Allen admits the season and the 1-7 start has been frustrating. Weis has decided to get more players into the mix in these last four games and start looking towards the future. That might mean good news for Allen, who is still looking for his first collegiate touchdown. The freshman wants to finish strong and make losing years a thing of the past.

"We all want to get on the right track and get out second wind and win out for the rest of the season," Allen said. "We know that it's going to take hard work and we're willing to do that. The most impressive thing is that even though we've won just one game, the team is still confident and coming out to practice giving 110 percent."

To get back on track, Allen is willing to go the extra mile to help Notre Dame earn more victories this year.

"These last four games, I want to go out there and show the team I'll do whatever it takes to get a win," Allen said. "If I have to play running back, wide receiver or give the defense some water, I'll do whatever it takes."

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