As much as I like flashy players like Reggie Bush, who make the spectacular plays, there's nothing I enjoy seeing more than an offensive lineman laying flat on top of a defensive lineman. Or, the other way around depending on which side of the ball my team is currently playing.
Unfortunately for the Irish, they've been on the bottom of that pile far too often lately, and if they want to turn their team around, they'll have to be on top of these individual battles more than not this season.
How will we know who is winning these battles? Check the stat sheets.
A look at the statistics of last year's top 20 teams show two important correlations. If your team averages more than 150 yards rushing per game, you'll likely have a good offense and a good chance to win games, especially if the same team surrenders less than 150 yards rushing on defense in the same game. Or, what I like to call, "The 150 Club." The Irish need to join "The 150 Club" a lot more next season.
Here's a look at the top 10 from last year and what they averaged last year in both rushing and rushing yards allowed in 2007.
LSU: 214 yards rushing. 106 rushing yards allowed.
USC: 197 yards rushing. 84 rushing yards allowed.
Georgia: 177 yards rushing. 109 rushing yards allowed.
Ohio State: 196 yards rushing. 83 rushing yards allowed.
Missouri: 176 yards rushing. 122 rushing yards allowed.
West Virginia: 297 yards rushing. 112 rushing yards allowed.
Kansas: 188 yards rushing. 95 rushing yards allowed.
Oklahoma: 190 yards rushing. 110 rushing yards allowed.
Virginia Tech: 133 yards rushing. 87 rushing yards allowed.
Texas: 207 yards rushing. 93 rushing yards allowed.
Notes: First, it's important to note that every team in the top 20 won at least nine games on the year. Out of the top 10 teams, Virginia Tech was the only team who didn't average over 150 yards rushing per game. All the top teams allowed less than 150 yards rushing per game for the season. In most cases, these teams averaged considerably more than 150 yards rushing and significantly less than 150 yards rushing per game. But that's why they're in the top 10. The Irish have a long ways to go to get there.
How far? The Irish averaged just 75 yards rushing per game in 2007, and allowed 195 yards rushing per game.
What about the next top 10 teams? You start to see some cracks in the armor and most likely why they finished outside the top 10.
Boston College: 101 yards rushing . 75 rushing yards allowed.
Tennessee: 139 yards rushing. 170 rushing yards allowed.
Arizona State: 137 yards rushing. 116 rushing yards allowed.
Auburn: 156 yards rushing. 124 rushing yards allowed.
Florida: 200 yards rushing. 103 rushing yards allowed.
Illinois: 256 yards rushing. 132 rushing yards allowed.
Hawaii: 72 yards rushing. 133 rushing yards allowed.
BYU: 144 yards rushing. 98 rushing yards allowed.
Michigan: 164 yards rushing. 156 rushing yards allowed.
Cincinnati: 147 yards rushing. 114 rushing yards allowed.
Notes: Only three of the teams ranked 10-20 in the national rankings finished averaging more than 150 yards rushing on offense, and allowed under 150 yards rushing per game on defense. But, every team in the top 20 finished with at least one side of the ball in "The 150 Club."
In Notre Dame's games last year the standard pretty much held true when it came to Notre Dame winning and losing games.
The Irish beat UCLA and held the Bruins to just 89 yards rushing on the game. Notre Dame only rushed for 49 yards as a team on offense, but holding UCLA to just 89 yards rushing gave them the opportunity to win the game—which they did.
Against Duke the Irish hit the double jackpot by rushing for 220 yards as an offense and holding the Blue Devils to just 94 yards rushing on the day. It was also Notre Dame's best game of the year.
Against Stanford the Irish squeaked out a victory but didn't hit either target number. They did hold Stanford to 175 rushing, however, and did amass 117 yards on the ground on offense. The Irish were close to meeting their goal of 150 on both sides, and that gave them the chance to win the game, which they did.
In the big Irish losses the trend was obvious. The Irish allowed 258 yards rushing against Georgia Tech and went backwards on the ground on offense with -8 yards rushing. The result: 33-3
Against USC the Irish surrendered 227 yards rushing and only amassed 48 yards on the ground on offense. The result: 38-0.
Michigan ran for 289 yards on the ground while the Irish managed -6 yards rushing. The result: 38-0.
Notre Dame has to get back to being respectable both against the run and with their own running game. The statistics show that if you hit the 150 mark on either side of the ball in most games the chances for success are pretty good. If you hit the 150 mark on both sides of the ball you'll almost always win the game.
Notre Dame became a better defense against the run as the season went along in 2007, but they also played lesser competition. Replacing Trevor Laws won't be easy, either. But if the Irish want to have a chance in their games they're going to have to find a way to at least slow some teams down on the ground.
The good news is the offensive line appears to be playing much more physical up front, and that will help them accomplish their goals in the run game. But Notre Dame needs to average another 75 yards more rushing per game just to get to "The 150 Club." That's a long way to climb, but I feel better about the offense getting there before the defense, at least to start the season.
If you check the stats sheets after the game, you'll likely see why the Irish won or lost the game. "The 150 Club" is the gold standard of football (designated by me). If the Irish want to become a top 10 team in the future, they'll need to hit that number on both sides of the ball to do it. I think they're a little ways off before you'll see that happen on a consistent basis.
So bring on the linemen! It's the only way they're going to get there. Tyler Stockton is a great start!
The 150 Club
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