90 Percent Perspiration

A focus on preparation, regardless of circumstances, helped Irish running back Armando Allen adjust quickly to Notre Dame's off-season of change.

Confidence and courage come through preparation and practice. – Author unknown

Two minutes with soon-to-be senior Armando Allen is all one needs to debunk two popular spring session myths regarding the Notre Dame Football program:

  1. Not every player on the roster has been hit by sweeping, style-altering change due to the arrival of a new staff and offensive scheme.
  2. Practice field and game day focus will (as always) serve as a proving ground for the 2010 Irish, not some hypothetical jolt of confidence or change in attitude provided by the new head man.

"Not too much has changed," said Allen of his daily approach. "My job is the same: run the ball, protect the quarterback, and catch it when I can. For me its getting to know the playbook and preparing to the best of my abilities at all times."

A Tweak, Not a Change

Notre Dame's 2010 offensive attack won't resemble its predecessors of the past decade. But one carryover, at least from the '09 offense, will remain: the shotgun.

Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar are installing the spread offense, and adjustments in technique, mindset, and responsibilities are plentiful for every position. But the pre-snap setup of two players: the QB and RB of choice, will remain the same. For Allen, that vantage point and view of the defense set to stop him is familiar.

Allen and the rest of the Irish offense spent the bulk of the second half of games in the shotgun last season, at one point featuring the formation in 41 of 46 plays vs. USC in mid-October.

"The majority of the offense last year was a shotgun team," Allen concurred. "That's not an adjustment."

A (Healthy) Encore is Essential

Allen's preparation prior to his junior season yielded career-best results. And if not for an ankle injury suffered late in Game 2 at Ann Arbor, would have likely produced gaudy statistics not seen in the Irish backfield since the departure of half back Darius Walker following the '06 season.

Allen finished his third season with 697 yards while averaging 4.9 yards per carry, the highest total since Walker's 5.0 average in '06 and the third-highest total this decade (Julius Jones averaged 5.5 per pop in '03. Jones' total is notable considering he was the team's only semblance of offense that season.)

Last season marked Allen's first as the team's featured runner. He averaged 77 rushing yards per game (Allen missed three contests due to the lingering ankle injury), a 32-yard increase over his sophomore season when he paced the squad with a paltry 45 yards per contest.

Part of Allen's evolution as a runner can be attributed to his now comfortable status as a veteran leader at his position and a player that sets an example for his competition. Every practice, every rep, every snap...with one ultimate goal.

"I'm so close to these guys," Allen said of his teammates. "We're like a family, and all we want to do (is win).

"My first thought when coach Kelly was hired was ‘he's going to come and win.'"

That end goal afforded Allen the luxury of embracing his tweaked role in the team's offense for his final season. His consistent approach last season should serve him well during the trying days and intense practices that await the Irish for the bulk of the spring.

"Change or something new is always exciting. That's one of the reasons why everybody is dedicated and accepting their roles – I think the biggest thing for us is to stay focused so we can live up to the expectations of the coaches."

Those expectations include an attention to detail and focus on the physical.

"It's more of a mindset," Allen noted of the recent addition of pads and contact while the Irish continue to learn to practice at an accelerated pace. "If you have it in your mind that you're going to give it all you got, the pads shouldn't make a difference.

"We just have to come out with more enthusiasm and be ready for an up-tempo practice. That's what Coach Kelly expects and we have to get into our heads."

Pass for Show, Run for Dough?

In 2008, Brian Kelly's Cincinnati squad managed just 3.62 yards per carry and 15 rushing touchdowns en route to an 11-3 season (and Orange Bowl berth/loss). Last year, the 12-1 Bearcats improved by a whopping 1.37 yards per carry, finishing with 4.99 per rush and 23 rushing touchdowns.

Notre Dame's highest yards-per-carry average of the past decade was produced by the 9-3 squad of 2000: 4.4 ypc. The program's last group to hit or top the 5-yard per carry mark? Lou Holtz's final team in 1996, which averaged 5.2 over an 8-3 campaign.

Kelly's 2009 offense ranked 69th nationally in rushing offense (measured by yards per game). Other teams ranked in the 60s included BCS runner-up Texas (61); 10-4 Nebraska (62); 11-2 BYU (63) and 8-5 Oregon State (67) – a team that fell four points and a defensive stop shy of a Rose Bowl Berth.

But neither rushing yards nor total passing yards per game provide an accurate indicator of team success. A team's yards-per-carry average, however, can serve as a reliable barometer, as noted last August by former Irish head coach Charlie Weis, who singled out the BCS teams of 2008-09 for their collective 4.6 yards-per-carry average.

Weis' study, which included the Cotton Bowl participants (as near-BCS qualifiers), held true for 2009-10 with two exceptions (one rather notable in the Iowa Hawkeyes):

2009-10 Yards Per Carry: BCS Participants

  • BCS Title Game: Alabama (5.01) vs. Texas (4.03)
  • Orange Bowl: Iowa (3.27) vs. Georgia Tech (5.22)
  • Sugar Bowl: Florida (5.59) vs. Cincinnati (4.99)
  • Rose Bowl: Ohio State (4.51) vs. Oregon (5.51)
  • Fiesta Bowl: Boise State (5.13) vs. TCU (5.23)
  • Cotton Bowl: Mississippi (4.75) vs. Oklahoma State (4.40)

And while the Irish won't rank among the nation's leaders in rushing yards anytime soon, an improvement over the five-year Weis regime averages of 3.6, 3.9, 2.1, 3.3, and 3.8 yards-per-carry is mandatory.

Can the 2010 Irish thrive offensively if mired near or just below 4.0 yards-per-carry? Of course, no statistic in football is absolute, but it would likely require another aspect of the team to rate at an extremely high level, one such as passing offense; red zone efficiency; total defense; turnover ratio, etc. (Iowa, for example, was a top 10 team in three key defensive categories: total defense, scoring defense, and pass efficiency defense. Cincinnati featured the nation's second-best pass efficiency offense that was augmented by a No. 13 ranking in turnover ratio.

Which brings us back (as it will for the foreseeable future), to the welcomed philosophy of the team's new head coach and one of his first comments regarding his approach football.

"I'm strictly about winning," Kelly told a quartet of reporters in December. "And everything that I've done as a head coach has been about winning. I really don't concern myself more with how we win; I don't care how."

After 16 seasons of only intermittent success, Irish fans no longer care, either.

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