September 01, 2015

(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.

Texas can't be nearly as confident up front.

Whereas most expect the Irish to re-emerge as a national power, the same can't be said of the Longhorns going into these programs' season opener Saturday in South Bend.

With former starting quarterback Everett Golson having transferred to Florida State after a disappointing 8-5 season, Notre Dame will focus more on the ground game with the athletic Malik Zaire taking over behind a talented offensive line.

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 Zaire 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 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, and 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.''

Texas might not have such an easy time running the ball with second-year coach Charlie Strong relying on so many inexperienced players.

Strong revealed a depth chart Monday with six freshmen starters and 23 more throughout the two- and three-deep position listings. Even in spots occupied by upperclassmen, the top backup is a freshman at eight positions.

''They've earned that right,'' Strong said. ''We've coached them up, now just play hard.''

The lineup was ripe for the picking for a heralded group of newcomers. The Longhorns went 6-7 last year and were blown out in the last two games against TCU and Arkansas. Afterward, Strong promised that even if a freshman and upperclassmen played to a virtual tie for a starting spot, the freshman would get the nod.

All of this leaves Texas with little experience at offensive line, linebacker and in the secondary.

The offensive line will start freshmen tackle Connor Williams and guard Patrick Vahe, who beat out senior and junior players, respectively. Senior center Taylor Doyle said both are ready.

''It's tough with true freshmen because they don't have the size and strength yet,'' Doyle said. ''But those guys came in and they were strong and ready to play. They've been impressive since the day they stepped on campus.''

Texas struggled badly on the offensive line with injuries, suspensions and inexperience last season. And Strong is sure Notre Dame will try to attack it as a weak spot again.

''As a defensive coach, if I see two freshmen, I'm going to blitz you every snap,'' Strong said.

Freshmen will also anchor the backside of the defense. Malik Jefferson, the prize-recruit of the 2015 class, will start at middle linebacker next to Edwin Freeman. John Bonney starts at cornerback.

All that inexperience will hit the field for the first time in a prime-time game on national television against one of college football's most revered programs. Strong said it will be time for his young players to grow up.

''When you're at the University of Texas, this is what you sign on for,'' Strong said.

The only freshmen starters for Notre Dame, meanwhile, will be place-kicker Justin Yoon and punt returner C.J. Sanders.

One key position where Strong went with the veteran was quarterback. Junior Tyrone Swoopes remains the starter as an expected push from redshirt freshman Jerrod Heard never happened through the spring and preseason training camp.

Strong said Heard will play against Notre Dame but said it's been obvious to the coaching staff for several weeks that Swoopes would start.

''I wanted to get better and compete with myself,'' Swoopes said. ''The coaches and everybody has seen the work I put in."

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