Run game more than afterthought for Irish

At Cincinnati, Brian Kelly's spread offense was known for its reliance on the passing game. Now Kelly is bringing that attack to Notre Dame.

But Kelly knows that in order to be better in November than September, the Irish will need to run the ball. His system is not only set up to do that, but he says the team has the right personnel in place.

"I would be very surprised if we were not a solid team running the football," Kelly said.

Notre Dame had its two worst rushing years ever, statistically speaking, in 2007 and 2008 before bouncing back a little last season. Still, it was far from imposing as the Irish averaged just 3.8 yards per carry and the running backs produced only eight rushing touchdowns.

But the offensive line is a veteran group, and leading ball carrier Armando Allen (697 yards in nine games) returns as the No. 1 tailback, aided by three other runners with distinct styles.

"No matter who's in the game, we always know nothing is going to drop off," Allen said. "We all have confidence in each other."

Allen isn't the swiftest of the bunch, but he's the most well-rounded. He should break the school record for receptions by a running back and is closing in on 4,000 career total yards.

Robert Hughes is a bruiser at 245 pounds, which may seem out of place in a spread. But he can be a weapon, particularly in short-yardage situations.

Offensive coordinator Charley Molnar calls Jonas Gray, a 230-pounder with good footwork, "the wild card" of the group. Gray has all the physical traits you'd want but has yet to do a whole lot at Notre Dame.

Then there's sophomore Cierre Wood, the fastest and probably most gifted of the bunch.

"He's got great speed and quickness," Molnar said. "But sometimes he's his own worst enemy. He'll go too fast and miss a cut, miss a read."

Kelly hasn't had a 1,000-yard rusher since 2005 at Central Michigan. At Cincinnati, he mostly used a tailback-by-committee approach. Last season, even though the Bearcats threw the ball 56.7 percent of the time, his top two running backs combined to average better than six yards per carry.

"The spread creates a lot of open space and provides a lot of opportunities for us to make big plays in the running game," Allen said. "It will come down to us and how good we are in our attention to detail."