SOUTH BEND, Ind. - Notre Dame tailback Armando Allen Jr. came to a disappointing realization after spending time during the offseason watching video of his play last year: He went down too often on the first hit.
“I knew after watching that I had to put on some weight and I needed to bring more intensity every play and try to keep my legs pumping,” Allen said.
The 5-10, 204-pound junior from Opa-Locka, Fla., just north of Miami, is one of the fastest players at Notre Dame. Yet after 220 career carries, he still doesn’t have a highlight-reel run from the line of scrimmage where he just blows past everyone.
His career long is 21 yards, a feat he accomplished three times in a span of five carries in a 38-21 victory over Purdue last season. He doesn’t have a run of longer than 15 yards outside of that game.
It’s not the kind of statistic expected from someone who was timed at 4.31 seconds in the 40-yard dash in high school. Allen, who had a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown against Hawaii last season, said he is surprised he hasn’t done better.
“But it’s also motivation,” he said. “We have a lot of work to do.”
The Irish are coming off the worst three rushing seasons in school history, averaging 126 yards a game in 2006, 75 yards in 2007 and 110 yards last season. Allen believes the first step to getting past those numbers is to forget about them.
“It’s to move forward. I think that’s the kind of attitude we have. Nothing in the past matters,” he said. “We just want to go out there and work on the future.”
The future for the 23rd-ranked Irish begins Saturday against Nevada, a team that also went 7-6 last season and was ranked sixth in the nation against the run, giving up just 88.6 yards a game.
That statistic is a bit deceiving, though, because Nevada had the nation’s worst pass defense and many teams depended on the pass against the Wolf Pack. Opponents threw the ball 506 times against Nevada last season and ran it 377 times. The Wolf Pack also played only two teams ranked in the top 50 in rushing offense.
The Irish ran the ball 436 times last year and threw it 447 times. Coach Charlie Weis said the Irish will do whatever is needed to beat the Wolf Pack. But he’s also said the Irish need to do a better job running the ball this season.
They are counting on Allen for that. Weis said Allen won the job because he is the most well-rounded tailback due to his good instincts, ability to pick up the blitz and his intelligence.
“He’s gotten himself physically stronger, because he wants to put himself in the position to be an every-down back,” Weis said.
When Allen arrived in South Bend in 2007 at 180 pounds after missing his entire senior season at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School because of a broken leg, he thought of himself primarily as an elusive back who tried to make tacklers miss. He’s worked to become a more complete back by becoming a better blocker and receiver. He was second on the team last year with 50 catches, the second-most catches by a Notre Dame running back.
He put on 11 pounds during the offseason, focusing on building up his legs. He believes he’s even faster and is more confident in his knowledge of the offense and determined to be harder to take down.
“It’s more of not letting that one guy bring you down, just not going down on that first contact,” he said.
Safety Kyle McCarthy, the captain of the defense, has seen a change in Allen in practice.
“For not being a guy that’s 230 pounds, he can bring it,” McCarthy said. “I definitely have noticed a difference this year. He’s definitely put his time in in the weight room this offseason. It’s showed so far this fall camp. Hopefully it will show on Saturday.”
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