Aldridge, Hughes Can Power Irish Ground Attack

NOTRE DAME, IN ( – If there was one take away for Notre Dame fans from Saturday’s 31-14 loss at the hands of Michigan State, it was that it looks like the Irish have found themselves a couple of running backs to build a power running attack around. Sophomore James Aldridge and freshman Robert Hughes powered their way to a combined 137 yards on 24 carries and touchdown while giving Irish fans a glimpse of a power running attack.

Heading into this past weekend’s game against Michigan State, the Notre Dame offense couldn’t much of anything in the right direct. In fact, NBC repeatedly showed a graphic displaying that nearly 50% of Notre Dame’s offensive plays resulted in a loss of yards or no gain prior to Saturday’s contest. Against the Spartans, however, the Irish began to establish an identity of being a power running team behind a couple of work horse running backs who appear capable of carrying the load at running back the rest of the season.

Last week Charlie Weis was not shy about letting people know he planned on using James Aldridge extensively against the Spartans. “This is a James Aldridge-type of week,” Weis told the media on Thursday. “That’s exactly right. I would expect to see James early and often.”

Weis stayed true to his words giving Aldridge the ball on the first two plays from scrimmage. The result was a modest eight yards, but considering Notre Dame’s struggles with getting in third and longs, having a third and two looked pretty nice.

Aldridge’s 43 yard run in the second quarter also looked pretty nice for an offense that has be devoid of big plays this year. In fact, the 43 yard jaunt was the longest run by a Notre Dame running back that didn’t come on a fake punt in three years. “The hole opened up where I tried to kick it outside,” Aldridge said of his long run. “We ended up getting it off to the end, so that’s always a about thing.”

On the day Aldridge totted the rock 18 times eclipsing 100 yards for the first time in his career with 104. For the talented sophomore tailback, it wasn’t enough though. “Yeah, it felt good, but it’s not good enough,” he said in his post game comments. “We’ve got to do more. So we’re going to go back to practice tomorrow and hopefully get better, plugging away.”

Freshman Robert Hughes was heard from shortly after Aldridge when he got the first carry on Notre Dame’s second offensive possession. Hughes took a handoff from Jimmy Clausen, ran left, and then cut back to the right for an eight yard gain setting up the Irish offense with a 2nd and goal from the 1 yard line.

Hughes, at 238 pounds, is Notre Dame’s largest running back and he displayed nice agility and cutting ability on his first carry. He also showed the type of tough running Notre Dame fans envisioned when he signed his letter of intent back in February on a three yard touchdown run in the second quarter that went right through a couple Michigan State defenders.

Hughes finished with 33 yards on eight carries.

Weis was pleased with both of his big backs and if he had any problems with them, it was that he couldn’t get them the ball more. “I would have liked to give it to him about another five or ten times, but just the game didn’t warrant me being able to that,” Weis said Saturday night after the loss. “And I wanted to get Robert into the mix because he brings that even bigger body than James. He’s 15 or 20 pounds heavier than James. If you’re going to try to play a slug it out mentality, you’d better have a couple of big bodies that can handle it.”

Aside from their success on the field, both backs were equally impressive on the sidelines showing the kind of emotion that has been lacking from the Notre Dame bench all season. After Hughes’s second quarter score, both backs were fired up and were getting their teammates fired up as well.

Running the ball with Hughes and Aldridge has been the first sign of life out of this offense this season and it’s a safe assumption that we will be seeing a lot more of both of these backs as the season progresses.

The Irish offensive line looked much more comfortable run blocking Saturday and at times, they showed glimpses of being the kind of line many envisioned. Michael Turkovich especially, who has received a lot of criticism for his play this year, looked very good at times strapping it on and smacking the Michigan State defensive line in the face as did John Sullivan and Sam Young.

Combine the improvements up front along with the powerful running of both Hughes and Aldridge and it looks as though Notre Dame might just be finding that elusive niche Weis has been talking about for the last few weeks.

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