Not Going To Be Denied

As the clock expired at Husky Stadium last Saturday, Notre Dame had successfully managed to win its first road contest of the season. Looking up at the scoreboard, junior right tackle Sam Young couldn't help but smile.

What he saw was the amount of total rushing yards the Irish offense had mustered in their 33-7 victory — an impressive 252 yards.

"It was fun," Sam Young said with a laugh when he first saw the final numbers. "They actually had it in their stadium and they were keeping track of it, and I looked up and said ‘oh, jeez, that's not too bad,' so even the guys at the end were tacking on some. That's something with not giving up sacks and pressures as well, getting rushing yards is something that's a goal of ours."

Starting on the opposite side of the line as Young, Mike Turkovich couldn't hold back his pride with the performance either.

"It felt good," he said. "Because when we looked up at the scoreboard, they had the rushing yards, passing and total yards, and to see 252 rushing yards, it was like, ‘you know what? We got the job done today. We did what we were supposed to do and came out here and had a balanced attack.'"

Entering the bye week after Notre Dame's loss at the hands of North Carolina, the Irish coaching staff stressed the importance of controlling the ground game on offense as a key for victory.

"I think it just kind of started in the bye week, we were working on running the ball," Turkovich said. "We stress it every week. We've got to run the ball because we can throw. Jimmy's a great quarterback and we have great wide receivers. But as an offense, you're much more potent if you have two attacks. So every week, we're working on passing the ball, but you know what, we've got to keep working on running the ball too. If we learn to run the ball, then we'll be very hard to stop on offense."

Turkovich's teammate agreed that the week off aided in the rushing explosion at the hands of Washington. However, Young feels that the offense as a whole unit has been developing, and the production is starting to show.

"I think we prepared," Young said. "I guess the bye week might have helped a little bit. But I think that it's more that we've just been steadily progressing. Not only the offensive line, not only the offense, but this team has steadily progressed throughout the season. Where we came from the beginning of the season to where we are now is night and day."

Part of the reason as to why the Irish had the success they did on the ground in Washington was because of the resurgence of James Aldridge. After being relatively quiet for the most part of the season, the junior halfback picked up 84 yards on 13 rushes, good for a 6.5 yards per carry average. Offensive coordinator Mike Haywood has sensed a renewed zeal in Aldridge's work ethic, causing him to get more carries.

"I think fundamentally his work ethic," Haywood cited as the main reason for his reawakening. "We came into a situation in which we didn't feel as though we were running the ball with as much power as we should have. We brought the two power backs in and sat down and talked with them and said we're just going to have open competition again today and let's see who shows up. He started to excel that day and has been getting better each and every week."

Aldridge simply entered the contest with a frame of mind that he had a job to do, and needed to execute. After the performance, the runningback was pleased with the results, but is by no means satisfied.

"I was content with the day, but I'm not satisfied at all," Aldridge said. "I want more. I'm just waiting on the coaches to call and I'll go in whenever they tell me to go in."

So what does he have to do to hear his name called more often? For Aldridge, the answer was quite clear.

"Just keep my intensity up," he replied. "Day in and day out. That's all you can do."

Another factor that played a role in the rushing outburst, according to offensive line coach John Latina, is a transformation in attitude. Whereas the unit was performing with a certain level of intensity, now they feel that they cannot be denied.

"We've always preached the need to be more physical, and I think our kids are starting to get to that point," Latina said. "We've still got some room for improvement, but I think it's a mentality. When things don't go well in a couple of games early in the year, in some third-and-one's that were crucial, and what you hope is that your team sees that, and sees how that hurts you. You hope your line sees that, and all your blocking people — your tight ends, your fullback, your lead back. And hopefully they look at that and can see how that can really change the outcome of the game. I think it hit home, where kids have a different mentality … that's the mentality I'm talking about — not to be denied, do your job and also the effort and toughness that it takes …"

Turkovich can definitely sense this renewed sense of enthusiasm along the unit, feeling a sense of urgency when the contest is drawing into its most tense moments.

"Yes, I think if we're starting to feel that as unit, as an offensive line and even the runningbacks too," he said. "It's like, ‘hey, it's third and short. They're not going to stop us, we need to get a first down and we need to get a score.' It's not like, ‘well, we'll get the ball back and we'll get another chance. No, it's like now or never. We've got to score now because this drive is the most important drive of the game, because it's happening right now. Not next drive, this drive.'"

For Young, this confidence isn't something that manifested itself in the squad from one day to the next — it is something that has been instilled in the players' minds and blossomed into a force to be reckoned with.

"Yeah, that's another thing, it's not like, oh, everyone woke up one day and said, ‘a-ha,'" Young said. "It's something that it started and I guess you could say the seed was planted in the spring and in the fall it's been nurtured and you're starting to see the fruition on that now."

With the Irish on the verge of being ranked in the top 25, and now that the seed has bloomed, Pittsburgh stands in the way. Only time will tell if this Notre Dame squad is to be denied. Top Stories