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October 3, 2011

Power, approach aid rush attack

With its 287 yards rushing Saturday night against Purdue, Notre Dame has now rushed for at least 100 yards in 12 straight games.

While that may not seem like much - Wisconsin would scoff at such a meager statistic - consider where the Irish were at the end of the Charlie Weis era and during the first eight games of the Brian Kelly regime.

The Irish rushed for less than 100 yards in six of the 15 games prior to the current triple-digit streak. In 10 of those 15 games, it was 115 yards or less.

In November of 2009, Navy and Pittsburgh held the Irish to 126 yards rushing combined in back-to-back weeks, including a mere 60 yards against Navy on 20 carries.

The Irish opened with 153- and 154-yard rushing efforts in Kelly's first two games at Notre Dame. But over the next four games, they totaled just 335 yards on 111 carries (3.0 per carry), including a low-water mark of 44 yards on 23 carries against Stanford.

It's a whole new ball game today, and while the Irish continue to leave points on the field and off the board - as they did once again Saturday night at Purdue - the ground game is becoming a force, which in turn opens up other avenues through the passing game.

"I believe our players are stronger, they're more fit, and we play physical," said Kelly after Cierre Wood rushed for 191 yards and Jonas Gray added another 94 against the Boilers.

"Our backs played as physical as any tandem out there. I mean, you've got to look at the way Gray and Wood ran the ball up inside as well as the speed they used on the edge. They finished off runs, which is what we were most impressed with."

On Notre Dame's last 401 carries spanning 12 games, the Irish have rushed for 1,802 yards - a 4.49-yard average per carry. On its previous 400 rushing attempts spanning 13 games, Notre Dame gained 1,441 yards - a 3.60-yard average.

In other words, the Irish have been running for nearly a yard more per carry in the last 12 games compared to the previous 13.

Part of it is the natural maturation of left tackle Zack Martin, left guard Chris Watt, center Braxston Cave, right guard Trevor Robinson and right tackle Taylor Dever. Another big part of it is the development of Wood and Gray into quality running backs that now know how to maximize their opportunities in the running game.

Kelly takes it a step further.

"

It's just a mentality that we developed when we got here about being the Fighting Irish, that we were going to get after you," Kelly said. "It starts up front and it starts in the weight room and it starts when those guys show up for 7 a.m. weight training during the year. You're starting to see it come together on the field."





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