This is the second part of a two-part series examining the Irish running game under head coach Charlie Weis. Click here for Part One.
2005: An Apt Comparison to 2009?
Though 2007 should never be completely ignored (or at least until the first BCS Trophy appears inside the new Purcell Pavilion trophy case under the Weis regime), the talent level on the 2009 Irish roster is inarguably superior to that of the '07 squad. Perhaps a review of the first two seasons of the Weis era is more appropriate when looking at the upcoming season.
Notre Dame/Opponent Rushing Yardage Comparison in 2005
- Pittsburgh: ***Notre Dame significant advantage 279 to 147
- Michigan: **Irish minimal advantage 150 to 123
- Michigan State: *ND disadvantage 186 to 141
- Washington: ***Notre Dame significant advantage 262 to 65
- Purdue: **Irish minimal advantage 176 to 165
- USC: **Irish minimal disadvantage 197 to 181
- BYU: *ND disadvantage 110 to 64
- Tennessee: *ND disadvantage 166 to 94
- Navy: **Irish minimal disadvantage 239-221
- Syracuse: **Irish minimal disadvantage 143 to 134
- Stanford: ***Notre Dame significant (and ridiculous) advantage of 231 to minus 11 yards rushing. (347 yards passing yards allowed hurt the Irish in the 38-31 nail-biter).
- Ohio State: A significant (crippling) disadvantage for Notre Dame 275 yards rushing to 62
Notes: In 2005, Notre Dame was among the nation's best offenses, due largely to its success moving the ball through the air, but ***Notre Dame still significantly outrushed its opponent in three games (finishing 3-0 vs. Pittsburgh, Washington, and Stanford). The **Irish battled opponents to a minimal advantage for either side on five occasions (finishing 4-1, losing only to USC while handling Michigan, Purdue, Navy, and Syracuse).
Additionally, *ND was noticeably outgained on the ground, (but not to a degree in which the offense couldn't function) in three contests, finishing *2-1 in those games with a win over Tennessee (Zbikowski scored on both a punt return and interception touchdown); and against BYU (a true outlier game, considering Quinn's stat line: 32-41, 467 yards, 6 TD, 0 INT and a game in which Charlie Weis explained at halftime – "Well, if they're going to bring seven or eight on every play we'll throw it on every play.")
The lone loss in this three-game set was to Michigan State. Opinions may vary regarding the 45-yard rushing differential to the Spartans, but considering the Spartans ran for 30 yards and the game-winning 19-yard score in overtime, and the Irish ran for exactly 0 yards in their only possession, the final judgment seems appropriate)
Not until the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State was the Irish ground game rendered completely ineffective when needed.
2006: Peaks and Valleys
Though the 2006 offense lacked the consistent punch of the '05 group, it certainly continued to perform the team's heavy lifting.
- Georgia Tech: **Irish enjoyed a minimal rushing yardage advantage 138-116
- Penn State: ***Notre Dame had significant advantage 158-110
- Michigan: *ND was at a significant disadvantage 120 yards rushing to 4 (not a typo)
- Michigan State: *ND was again at a significant disadvantage, giving up 248 yards rushing while finishing with just 47
- Purdue: ***Notre Dame had a significant advantage 138 yards to 92
- Stanford: ***Notre Dame with another significant advantage, 204 yards to 72
- UCLA: **Irish had a minimal advantage 41 yards to 26 in this defensive struggle
- Navy: *ND overcame a significant disadvantage n rushing yards, 271 to 176
- North Carolina: ***Notre Dame bounced back with a significant advantage on the ground, 106 yards to 31
- Air Force: **Irish were at a minimal rushing disadvantage 200 to 176
- Army: ***Notre Dame predictably posted a significant rushing advantage 221 yards to 58
- USC: **Irish at a minimal disadvantage to the Men of Troy, 139 yards to 131 for the Irish on the ground. (Incidentally, the total yardage gained on that evening was even at 404).
- LSU: *ND was at a significant disadvantage 245 rushing yards to 143 (though a solid rushing effort by the Irish)
Notes: In 2006, a potent if not dominant ***Notre Dame offense still significantly outrushed its opponent in five games (5-0 vs. Penn State, Purdue, Stanford, North Carolina, and Army). The **Irish battled Georgia Tech, UCLA, Air Force, and USC (3-1) to a minimal advantage for either side, while *ND was noticeably outgained on the ground vs. Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, and LSU (2-2).
The (Re)Taking of the Trenches...MSU, USC, BC...
In 2006, halfback Darius Walker averaged 5.0 yards per carry en route to 1,267 rushing yards, yet Irish fans/critics lamented the junior's breakaway speed and dearth of long runs. Two years and 25 games later, 4 of the team's 11 total carries in excess of 20 yards came via the legs of a wide receiver (Golden Tate on two end-around runs) and strong side linebacker (Harrison Smith on two fake punts). Six more occurred vs. three teams (Duke/Stanford '07 and Purdue '08) that finished with a total of 9 wins and 27 losses.
The six regulars expected to lead the Irish offensive line this season have accounted for 100 career starts. Two halfbacks and the team's fullback have totaled 746 college carries. The Quarterback has 22 starts; the wide receivers 41 and the tight end 13. Both talent and experience permeate the offensive attack.
A potent Notre Dame passing game ensures the Irish will rarely be out of any contest. It should also afford the team several second half leads (again) in 2009…but it's up to Charlie Weis, new OL coach and running game coordinator Frank Verducci, and the aforementioned players that accounted for ONE fourth-quarter rushing touchdown last season (Washington) to protect those late-game advantage.
Until then, the influx of talent and speed that will line up far removed from the the football for the Irish this fall will continue to produce more YouTube highlights and fancy stats than big wins and meaningful Bowl appearances.