Notre Dame looking to run the ball more with Zaire at QB
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) No. 11 Notre Dame wants to run the ball more this season and the Fighting Irish think they have the big, nasty line to lead the way.
Left tackle Ronnie Stanley has been projected as a possible top 10 NFL draft pick, and he is joined by Nick Martin, a second-year captain with 24 career starts. The Irish also have an experienced running back in Tarean Folston, who rushed for 889 yards last season, and quarterback Malik Zaire, who carried the ball 22 times for 96 yards in his only start against LSU in the Music City Bowl.
''We've got a big powerful group of guys up front that have a little bit of an edge to them and a little bit of a nastiness to them. So we're going to lean on them,'' associate head coach Mike Denbrock said. ''We've got a quarterback who can do some things with the ball in his hands. We've got some good backs. So we're structured that way.''
The Irish, who open the season at home Saturday night against Texas, have been known as more of a passing team in recent years. They haven't ranked in the top 30 in the nation in running since 2001, Bob Davie's last season as coach. Quarterback Carlyle Holiday was second on the team in rushing season with 666 yards.
The Irish haven't averaged more than 200 yards a game rushing since 2000. Martin is hoping the Irish run the ball more.
''Offensive linemen just like to run the ball. It's a sense of pride, a sense of getting after someone, working together to accomplish that mission,'' he said.
Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand, entering his fourth year with the Irish, believes this year's team has the potential to be the best he's had at Notre Dame. He said it will depend on the development of sophomore Quenton Nelson, who will be making his first start at left guard, and junior right tackle Mike McGlinchey, who will be making his second start.
''Any time you have two guys who haven't played before, really, there's a little bit of we'll see how it goes,'' he said.
The common denominator for Notre Dame's national championship teams has been strong running teams. Since the NCAA started keeping stats in 1946, six of Notre Dame's seven national championship teams ranked in the top 13 in rushing. The exception was the 1977 squad that finished 40th at 232 yards a game.
Coach Brian Kelly's best rushing team in South Bend was in 2012, when the Irish averaged 189.4 yards a game and finished 38th in the country as they advanced to the national championship game. The Irish were 68th last year at 160.9 yards a game.
Kelly concedes he'd like the Irish to run the ball more this season, but said it will depend on how opponents try to defend the Irish.
''Controlling the line of scrimmage takes pressure off of all facets of the game: Field position, kicking game, snaps per for your defense,'' he said. ''Running the football definitely gives you some of those things in your favor. They don't always equal to winning, but they certainly can help in a lot of areas.''
Notes: The only freshmen starters for Notre Dame against Texas will be place-kicker Justin Yoon and punt returner C.J. Sanders. ... Kelly listed sophomore Daniel Cage as the starter at nose tackle, but said freshman Jerry Tillery will play there. ... Kelly said he, Denbrock and offensive coordinator Mike Sanford will be collaborating on calling plays.