NOTRE DAME, IN (UHND.com) – Notre Dame’s struggling ground game could receive a shot in the arm this weekend if sophomore James Aldridge, whom Charlie Weis hinted would be a featured back this weekend, can display the same kind of tough running he did at the end of the Michigan game when the Michigan State Spartans travel to South Bend this weekend.
“This is a James Aldridge-type of week,” Weis told the media Thursday. “That’s exactly right. I would expect to see James early and often.”
Aldridge, a sophomore out of Merriville, Indiana, was a highly touted, five star running back coming out of high school, but a knee injury his senior season limited his effectiveness as a freshman in 2006 despite his early enrollment the previous spring. Now fully healthy, the time could be right for the talented tailback to have his breakout game.
Aldridge is currently leading the struggling Notre Dame ground attack with 70 yards on 17 carries with 51 of those yards coming last week in Ann Arbor. Down 38-0, Aldridge saw the majority of his work and despite the large deficit, Aldridge ran hard and showed a lot of heart.
Some will say that those 51 yards don’t mean anything because Michigan was playing their backups, but it was the way Aldridge was running that was more impressive. He wasn’t running tentatively or trying to avoid contact. He ran hard and bounced off defenders instead of falling to the ground on first contact.
Of all of the running backs on the Irish roster this year, Aldridge might be the most physical runner at this point, but up until his mop up duty in the Michigan game, he had only been used sparingly. Aldridge, though, had had his chances this year. Against Penn State he had what looked to be a big play in front of him, but he couldn’t handle a pitch from Jimmy Clausen and the play died. After that, he was not seen from again against the Nitanny Lions.
Notre Dame has not been able to control the ball and sustain offense much this year in large part because of the lack of a running game early in games. Aldridge is the kind of back, however, that could wear down a defense and soften them up throughout the game.
Charlie Weis has spoke all week about winning the battle at the line of scrimmage and getting more physical in practice. The Irish have had two and a half full contact practices this week and it’s very likely that Weis will want to come out and run the ball to take pressure off Clausen who has been a tackling dummy for opposing defenses the past two weeks.
Weis has also talked all week about finding a niche and getting good at the basics instead of trying to scheme his way around the opposing defense. Against Georgia Tech and Michigan, Weis tried to run a spread attack and the results were not good to say the least. If he is truly looking to get back to basics, establishing the run would be the most obvious place to start and Aldridge might just be the most obvious person to turn to.
Freshman speedster Armando Allen has started the last two games for the Irish and has seen plenty of work through three games, but despite his obvious enormous potential, he hasn’t shown the ability to be able to be a work horse type of back that can tote the rock 20+ times a game. He also has been used primarily on the edges and hasn’t seen a whole lot of inside carries.
Fifth year senior Travis Thomas, meanwhile, has seen his role reduced the past two weeks and his only carry against the Wolverines last week came on a fake punt in the second quarter.
And this brings us back to Aldridge. Every great player has a breakout game that they point back to as the game where they turned the corner – the kind of game where they start to establish themselves as a force to be reckoned with. Irish fans have been waiting for that kind of game out of Aldridge since he committed to the Irish back in the spring of 2005 and this weekend could very well be that game.
Of course for Aldridge to get that chance the offensive line is going to have to improve by leaps and bounds from the past three weeks, but that’s another story all together.