The Grinder

Irish Eyes offers its Pre-Camp Assessment of senior tailback Armando Allen.

The name Armando Allen is unlikely to pass the lips of Irish fans that gather to reminisce about the program's all-time great, memorable, or even most versatile running backs.

Unless, of course, they're familiar with Notre Dame's record book.

Entering his senior season, Allen needs 644 rushing yards to join the program's Top 10 career list (he ran for 697 last fall).

Likewise, Allen already ranks No. 9 all-time in all-purpose yards (a stat that includes kick and punt return yardage). With a rough estimate of 800 combined rushing/receiving yards (he's topped 900 yards from scrimmage in both of the last two seasons) Allen would finish his career placed squarely between two guys named Rocket Ismail and Tim Brown for 5th place on the program list.

His eighth catch of 2010 will place him atop the list for receptions by a running back; his 253rd receiving yard (he had 216 last year) would place him second all-time on that positional rundown.

Should Allen regain punt return duties and take just one to the house, the underrated senior would become the first player in the program's modern era (since 1919 and perhaps beyond, as the type of touchdown scored wasn't always recorded) to run, catch, throw, and return both a kick and punt for a touchdown over the course of his Irish career.

All of this without the benefit of a single rushing attempt or pass reception in excess of 26 yards.

And therein lies the rub…and likely, the reason, why Allen's name will never be mentioned with the program's greats. Long runs lead to touchdowns. They lead to dramatic wins, to glory, to victories vs. nationally ranked opponents; and that dearth of long gains has limited Allen to just 9 combined rushing/receiving touchdowns in 464 total touches from scrimmage.

His longest touchdown run? An untouched 16-yard scamper over a caved-in right side vs. Purdue in 2008.

While the first would-be tackler rarely drops Allen; the last defender between him and the goal line has yet to miss.

The 5'10" 200-pound bruiser

Rarely entrusted in short-yardage situations over his first two seasons (0-4 on 3rd down conversion rushes of 2 yards or less), Allen proved his mettle as a reliable short-yardage runner in ‘09, bulling for 8 first downs on 12 third-and-short rushing attempts while rushing for 11 first downs overall on third down carries (of any distance).

Allen has produced as a second down runner for the past two seasons, last year averaging 5.6 yards-per-carry on second down, while totaling 22 first downs (and a touchdown) on his 51 total second down carries (of any distance). In '08, 14 of Allen's 16 carries on second-and short-yardage resulted in Irish 1st downs.

His toughness is not in question, but durability could again be an issue, as Allen's inside running style has proven hazardous to his smaller frame. As a junior last season, Allen missed four intermittent games (Purdue, Washington State, Navy, Stanford) due to a recurring ankle injury and later, a broken hand.

Intermixed was a season of evidence that suggests the undersized Allen performs better the more he carries the pigskin:

  • Michigan: 6.6 yards per carry – 21 rushes, 139 yards, 1 touchdown plus a 2-point conversion. Six rushes of 10 yards or more.
  • Michigan State: 5.0 ypc – 23 rushes, 115 yards, 1 touchdown (plus one passing touchdown to Robby Parris). Three rushes of 10 yards or more.
  • Pittsburgh: 5.5 ypc – 14 rushes, 77 yards
  • Nevada: 4.8 ypc – 15 rushes, 72 yards, 1 touchdown. Two rushes of 10 yards or more.
  • Boston College: 4.7 ypc – 21 rushes, 98 yards. Three rushes of 10 yards or more.
  • Connecticut: 4.4 ypc – 24 rushes, 106 yards. Three rushes of 10 yards or more including a 26-yard burst to tie his career best.
  • USC: 4.2 yps – 12 rushes, 51 yards. One rush in excess of 10 yards.
  • Washington: 3.2 ypc – 12 rushes, 39 yards. One rush in excess of 10 yards.

It seems contradictory that a 5'10" (in cleats) 200-pound ‘back would get stronger as a game progresses and the carries mount, but that appeared to be the case for Allen in '09.

Yet, there's evidence to support Irish fans (and possibly the new coaching staff) who believe the team will be best served by a running back committee rather than workhorse approach next season. Consider the following:

Over the last two years, Allen has scored just one regular season touchdown from scrimmage after the fifth contest. He totaled three scores last season, one in each of the season's first three matchups. He totaled five scores in '08 (3 rushing/2 receiving), three of which occurred prior to a Week Five win over Stanford, then just one more, a 15-yard scamper vs. Navy in early November. Allen added a receiving touchdown and his lone career kick return for a score following a 25-day recovery period vs. Hawaii to cap his sophomore season.

Allen might get better as a game progresses, but he'll need ample support to be at his best over the three-month haul.

Allen's 2010 Outlook

When former head coach Charlie Weis noted last August that Allen "carried himself as if he were the No. 1 back," I dismissed the pre-season observation as coach-speak. It turns out Weis was correct.

Allen was noticeably better in all aspects of the game as a junior, serving as the team's most consistent runner, pass-catcher, and pass protector over the course of the season. He was the toughest inside runner and produced nearly as many runs in excess of 10 yards (19 in 142 carries) as did the rest of the RB quartet (21 total on 157 carries from Hughes/Gray/Riddick/Aldridge).

No running back wants to share crunch-time carries. But Brian Kelly's up-tempo spread offense, coupled with the presence of Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, and Robert Hughes, suggests Notre Dame will require its stable of ‘backs to be ready when called upon; that it will be a rare occurrence for one runner to dominate the proceedings for a string of contests.

(Kelly's Cincinnati offense featured two tailbacks in '08 and '09 but four in '07. Look for three Irish running backs to notch 50-150 rushing attempts next fall with a fourth to approach the 35-40 mark.)

Can Allen stay healthy over the 12-to-13-game slate? Its crucial to his future because an injury to a 2010 first-string upperclassmen starter opens the door to a host of young talent looking to impress the new regime. Can he finally add a breakaway element to his otherwise steady skill set?

I mentioned last summer that if Allen (or Hughes) were "great" runners, we'd have already have seen it. The two had combined for 385 collegiate carries at that point, and it seemed reasonable to suggest they had the potential to be good, or very good, but not great.

Its unlikely Allen will be great in 2010. (Was Darius Walker "great?" Was Ryan Grant? Was Tony Fisher?) But Allen brings something to the table that no other member of the backfield can boast: reliability.

He's solid, he's steady, he'll be aware in pass protection; fight for extra yards at the tail end of each carry; put his head down for the key first down; won't suffer the needless dropped pass in the clutch and he can be trusted with the football…in short, he'll remind fans of Walker with fewer touches.

And thanks to the spacing provided by Kelly's spread attack, Armando Allen will break at least one long touchdown run this season.

More important, he'll embrace and lead teammates past through the daily grind of August camp into what should be a January Bowl appearance in his final college season.

And whether we choose to recognize his career accomplishments as "great" or at some other level, a healthy Armando Allen will place his name at the top, or among the top 10 in the Irish record book as a runner, receiver out of the backfield, and all-around football player. (With the Irish choosing captains for each game – and it is assumed at season's end – look for Allen's name to appear on that short list as well.)

"It's important to him," offered Allen's former position coach Tony Alford last fall among a string of compliments he directed at Allen, the teammate and leader.

It's important to Irish fans, too. Which is why its time they embrace the one 'back they can rely on in 2010. The guy that keeps showing up…grinding away.

Allen at his Best in 2009

  • Michigan: Produced the two of the three longest plays from scrimmage of his career (rushes of 24 and 26 yards) along with the temporary go-ahead touchdown and two-point conversion late in the 4th Quarter. Allen also had a 41-yard touchdown reception called back to the 22-yard line by the replay official.
  • Michigan State: Ran for 115 yards on 23 carries including a 13-yard touchdown jaunt to start the contest. Allen added a 5-yard TD pass to Robby Parris to become the first non-QB to throw a TD pass at the school since 2000 (Nick Setta). Chipped in with a goal line fumble recovery of Jimmy Clausen to preserve a 4th down field goal by Nicholas Tausch.
  • Boston College: Churned for 98 yards on 21 taxing carries vs. the nation's No. 14 run defense. Produced seven plays from scrimmage in excess of 8 yards.
  • Connecticut: Accounted for 170 rushing/receiving yards on a career-best 31 touches.

Allen's Moments to Forget in 2009

  • Michigan: Allen injured his ankle on a 13-yard carry as the Irish offense attempted to run out the clock late in the final period. Allen was unable to return and Notre Dame failed to gain another yard on three plays, forcing a punt back to the Wolverines for what became the game winning drive.
  • Washington: Dropped a 2nd Quarter pass that deflected into the hands of Huskies LB Donald Butler late in the half. Allen also re-injured his ankle during the least productive game of his '09 season (67 yards on 15 total touches, including a 21-yard burst).
  • Connecticut: Allen committed the position's cardinal sin, fumbling after a gain of 19 yards on a 3rd down pass reception with 0:49 remaining. The miscue set up the Huskies for a potential game-winning field goal, but UConn kicker Dave Teggart hooked the 37-yard offering to send the game into overtime. Earlier, Allen was hammered in mid-air on a 3rd and Goal dive to end what had been a highlight reel drive for the junior (52 yards on 5 carries including a 26-yard rush) with a Notre Dame field goal. Top Stories