For prediction No. 1, click here.
Prediction #2 – Notre Dame Will Post its Highest Single-Game Rushing Total Since 2003
The prediction technically calls for the Irish to top the 275-yard mark, achieved by Charlie Weis' first team in his first game, the 2005 52-21 drubbing of Pittsburgh in Heinz Field.
The Irish piled up those 275 yards on 51 carries, 100 yards courtesy of sophomore halfback Darius Walker and the mark stands as the highest single-game total over the last six full seasons.
Aside from a handful of battles vs. the smaller front walls of the academies and a few miserable Pac-10 rush defenses, Weis' squads rarely approached that level of execution between the tackles during his tenure.
- 2005 vs. Navy: 39 carries, 221 yards, 2 rushing TD
- 2005 at Washington: 47-233-3 (the "Pass Right" game)
- 2005 at Stanford: 50-231-2 (Nail-biting win clinched a BCS berth)
- 2006 vs. Stanford: 39-204-1 (Pre-Harbaugh)
- 2006 vs. Army: 35-221-3 (Senior Day)
- 2007 vs. Navy: 63-235-4 (The only loss in the mix as Navy rumbled for 257 and 4 TD as well)
- 2007 vs. Duke: 48-220-1 (Laettner/Hurley nowhere to be found…)
- 2008 vs. Purdue: 40-201-1 (Armando Allen led the way)
- 2008 at Washington: 49-252-3 (winless Huskies)
- 2008 at Navy: 51-230-2 (the one that almost got away)
- 2009 vs. Washington State: 48-255-2 (the worst rushing defense among BCS teams last season)
None of the opponents listed above had the defensive talent level (albeit undeveloped) or status of Weis' first opponent, the Panthers.
Extending further back, the '04 Irish under Tyrone Willingham had a single-game high of just 204 yards, also vs. Navy.
In fact, it was Willingham's '03 squad that produced the highest single game totals of the decade, as Julius Jones and Ryan Grant helped those Irish rip off in excess of 275 yards (our prediction's stated goal) on three occasions, with the high-point also occurring at Heinz Field, as Jones accounted for a program-record 262 rushing yards in ND's 352-yard ground party vs. the then 3-1 Panthers.
275 rushing yards is the high water mark for the ND program over the last six seasons, and I'm confident that number will be surpassed by Kelly's troops in his first season.
Part B – the Fly in the OintmentIn three seasons at Cincinnati, Brian Kelly's squads never topped the 275-yard mark vs. an FBS/Division 1-A opponent. Neither did any of his three Central Michigan teams in the three seasons he coached the Chippewas prior (Kelly's '06 CMU team threw the ball all over the field with the '05 team enjoying more balance).
The Bearcats of 2007 notched a Kelly-era high 263 rushing yards vs. San Diego State (the team's 314-yard rushing outburst vs. FCS/Division II opponent SE Missouri State in ‘07 was a "name-your-score" affair).
Myriad reasons exist for the lack of huge rushing numbers, but the most telling is that Kelly's teams, and personnel, have generally favored the pass.
Why would the 2010 Irish backfield, 3/4 of it the same collection of runners unable to break out in seasons' past, top the 275-yard mark this season?
Kelly loves to throw the football – to pressure teams vertically and to spread out the defense, creating one-on-one situations in space.
But there's one element of the game that's much more attractive to Kelly.
Winning – by any means necessary.
And in 2010, Kelly's Irish, especially in the season's first two weeks and then into the soft underbelly of the mid-October schedule, will find more success running the football.
A quick look at the upcoming candidates that could yield 275 rushing yards to the Irish:
- Purdue (Game 1): My prime candidate outside of the academies: The Boilers return the nation's 94th ranked rush defense and lost penetrating DT Mike Neal and leading tackler Torri Williams. One issue to refute the choice: Purdue must also replace its starting secondary from '09. Of Note: Michigan's spread piled up 262 rushing yards when the teams tussled last November.
- Michigan (Game 2): The Wolverines finished 91st vs. the run last season and lost two of their three best defenders in the box. Armando Allen had his way with UM up front last season and the Irish passing game won't yet be clicking on all cylinders in early September. But this bitter rivalry game isn't a recipe for complete dominance by one team up front.
- Western Michigan (Game 7): The nation's 97th-ranked returning rushing defense will pose a welcomed respite after 4-5 consecutive physical battles. For the sake of reference, Michigan's spread produced 242 rushing yards vs. the Broncos last September.
- at Navy (Game 8): From 2000 through 2008, Irish squads piled up in excess of 200 rushing yards vs. the Midshipmen in 7 of 9 contests (ND ignored the run – and football logic – finishing with 60 rushing yards in last season's loss).
- Tulsa (Game 9): A terrible Golden Hurricanes pass defense indicates this might not be the best choice. But if ND gets ahead early...
- Utah (Game 10): I wouldn't bet on it, but the Utes allowed between 215 and a season-high 342 rushing yards on four occasions last season. The mid-November conditions could play a role in a ground-oriented game plan as could the Utes' 9th ranked pass efficiency defense from 2009.
- Army (Game 11): The Cadets finished a respectable 70th vs. the run last season, but the Irish should spend the bulk of the 2nd half running out the clock. That's a lot of yards to be had, especially by a hungry backup tailback in Yankee Stadium.
- Games at Michigan State, BC and USC, and at home vs. Pittsburgh and Stanford serve as the five most unlikely to prove the prediction accurate.
Look for the Irish to exceed 275 rushing yards en route to victory in one of the contests highlighted above.