Wood Commits, Clausen Impresses, Irish Look Ahead
Good news from South Bend yesterday. As Big-time, South Side George reported, all is well as long as ND has secured a commitment from Cierre Wood. As the attention has shifted to the future, a big MO for me is the current ND running back situation. While a lot of attention has been directed towards last year's dismal 2.1 yp/carry average, I forecast a big 2008-2009 from the current three-headed monster in South Bend.
Quick recap of the numbers from last year: 903 net rushing yards vs. 2345 for opponents, 58 sacks, 16 lost fumbles, and an alarming 16.4 PPG (not exactly MAC Championship material). With those numbers in mind anything seems to be a positive gain for King Charlie, but the likes of an improved Armando Allen, James Aldridge, and Sir Robert Hughes returning has me thinking back to the days of Lee Becton, Randy Kinder and Autry Denson (they all got ND degrees). While their numbers from 2007 aren't all that impressive, improved stability from RB corps will take much-anticipated pressure away from Bishop Clausen. Similar stories have led to impressive campaigns recently (see WISCO @ 10-3 w/ Brian Calhoun supporting John Stocco, or Arkansas @ 10-4 w/ RUN DMC and Felix Jones supporting Mother-Lover Mustain).
Looking ahead, even a moderate improvement in the ND running game should equal huge dividends for the Irish (Top 20 Rushing leaders included winners: Navy, AF, Ark, WVU, Zook School, LSU, Ohio State and Wisco among others). Given the Rivals-documentation all three returning RBs received before landing in South Bend, I am hopeful a 1800-yard campaign is not out of line (Hawaii had more rush yards last year - did you ever see them run?). With that being said, an improved running game should comfort the Clausen learning curve as the Irish battle the likes of Michigan, Michigan State and Purdue in September. As the season progresses and Clausen grows into his role, the Irish will be closer to meeting some of the expectations that resulted from Charlie's early success.