While the ND fanbase is pretty agitated with the loss on Saturday, most fans are, at least grudgingly, pretty pleased with what appears to be an improvement in the Irish rushing game. And while I’m pleased to be noticing some statistical improvement over last year and happy to note Armando Allen has worked his way to a #22 ranking among D1 college football rushers, ND still hasn’t gotten one monkey off its back: Managing to earn a big gain in a single rushing play.
We’ve been harping on this for quite some time now. Sure, it’s great that ND’s top rusher is averaging nearly 6 yards per carry, but we can’t help but wonder what a difference a long rushing play of, say, 40 yards might have done for ND’s fortunes in the Michigan game. 40 yards may sound like a lot, particularly to ND fans, but it’s actually nearly 10 yards short of the average long rushing gain of Allen and everyone ahead of him on the list of rushing leaders. Allen’s season long is just 24 yards, achieved against the Wolverines last Saturday.
Take a look at the numbers here:
Again, it’s great that Allen’s output is so high. Hell, it’s nearly shocking. Of the 23 guys on that list, he’s one of only 6 who haven’t got a rush over 30 yards. There are 6 other guys with season long rushes over 70 yards. There are 14 guys with long rushes over 40 yards. (Yes, I know all this falls into the statistical category of “duh,” but I feel it deserves highlighting.) What Allen’s doing is as “lunch pail” as you can get from a running back. Take away each of these guys’ season long rushes, and Allen’s yards per carry average only falls by half a yard (2nd smallest drop on the list). The average drop is about 1.4 yards.
One interesting and somewhat encouraging statistic is Allen’s total carries. Allen’s only got 36 carries to this point – 1 short of the average of the guys on the list. That’s just 18 carries per game, hardly a rate that we’d expect to cause substantial wear and tear on Allen’s body over the long course of the season. (Javon Ringer, just to give you some perspective, had 30 carries per game in 2008, and Daniel Thomas, at #12 on this list, has 50 carriers already.) Maybe, just maybe, this “easy does it” approach to a rushing game can work, but we’d still like to see Allen use the same speed we saw in the Hawaii bowl game during a run this season, and soon. Showing such capabilities gives defensive coordinators extra challenges as they search for ways to stack the box against the run without opening up themselves to the big play both in the air and on the ground. Just a few, truly long runs can really create a tug-o-war of defensive tactics. Still, with MSU’s linebacking corps on the other side of the line of scrimmage this weekend, we don’t expect to see it Saturday.