Aldridge And The Offense Look To Get Going

James Aldridge painfully came off the field during the first quarter of the Boston College game three weeks ago with a high-ankle sprain. He tried to return later in the game for a play, but his ankle wouldn't give in. In fact, that ankle didn't respond any better the following week in practice, leaving Notre Dame without its starting running back against rival USC.

The bye week followed, and it couldn't have come at a better time for the Irish sophomore. The 6-foot, 222-pound Aldridge needed the time off, as his ankle still wasn't feeling any better.

Late this past Saturday night, early Sunday morning, Aldridge finally began to notice his ankle was returning to normal.

"It feels good now," he said following practice on Tuesday evening. "Just a little knick."

Aldridge proved he was ready to Notre Dame (1-7) head coach Charlie Weis at Monday's practice, and the third-year coach told the media the Crown Point, Ind., product will be available for Saturday‘s home game against Navy (4-4).

"He's back and ready to go," Weis stated. Aldridge is the Irish's leading rusher with 249 yards on 67 carries (3.7 avg.). "It was encouraging watching him run around. I also let him know last week that it was going to be important for him Monday to be able to run around so we could see we could count on him. Judging him yesterday, he's ready to go."

That's good news for the Irish, who head into Saturday's game ranking last nationally in rushing yards per game. And there is more good news. For the first time all season, Notre Dame faces a rush defense in Navy, a defense in general, that isn't one of the nation's best or at the very least, ranked in the top-half nationally against the run.

If there was ever a time for the Notre Dame offense to get its running game going and play a complete game, its against the Midshipmen. Navy has allowed over 400 yards of total offense in six games this season, and is 82nd in the country against the run, and 119th in pass-efficiency defense. One unit is going to get healthy, as Notre Dame ranks last nationally in total offense.

"We're hoping to have a big day on offense," Weis said. "But this is also a game we're hoping to have a big game on defense, too. We're hoping on offense that we can get the ball and move the ball with consistency and put the ball in the end zone. That's what we're hoping to do.

"But we are not underestimating their defense just because people have been putting up some serious numbers on them. We're aware of the numbers. We're aware of what people have done production wise. I watched the Delaware game (a 59-52 Delaware win last weekend). It wasn't like I haven't watched a tape and the players haven't watched a tape. But just the way we're counting on being productive on offense, our defense is counted on the same."

Five of Notre Dame's opponents this year rank in the top-17 nationally against the run, with Boston College checking in at No. 2 and USC coming in at No. 7. Despite the competition, Aldridge said the Irish expected to move the ball each week, so nothing changes against Navy.

"We thought about that every week," he said. "Another opportunity is given to us this week and we're going to try and take advantage of it."

Left tackle Sam Young agreed.

"We still have to get our job done on any given Saturday," the 6-foot-8, 310-pound sophomore starter said. "We have to be able to finish our blocks and make holes for the running back. The rankings are really just a number."

Beginning with Navy, the Irish have a chance to turn their offensive woes around against the final four opponents of the season. The 34 yards rushing per game, and 188 total yards per game are on pace to be by far the worst in program history dating back to 1946.

Here is another ranking that finally looks favorable. Notre Dame is last in the nation in sacks given up. Navy is second to last in sacks.

"Well, it's a different style of defense," Weis said. "They're a lot more of that bend but don't break mentality that they play, so they don't put as much pressure on you as a lot of the teams we go against. Now, they still show, have their 25 percent or so where they'll go ahead and bring pressure on you, but what they're doing is they're counting on that you won't have the patience to nickel and dime them all game long, and I think that that's the game that they're willing to play. So you have to be a little bit more patient than you normally would be, not to sit there and see, because all you need to do is have a holding penalty here or a turnover there, and the way they score on offense you could find yourself in trouble in a hurry."

Weis had his Irish players preparing for this game before heading home for fall break last week. If they can't get it going offensively in this one, it will be time to wonder if the offense will get it going at any time this season. Top Stories