Promises to keep

Irish fullback Aldridge enjoying ND-USC week

October 13, 2009, 9:24 PM

By: Eric Hansen

James Aldridge

AP Photo/Joe Raymond

Senior fullback James Aldridge, who was a recruit in 2005, can still remember then-ND quarterback Brady Quinn's frustration after losing to USC that year.

SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- James Aldridge remembers the conversation, word for word, emotion for emotion.

In the moments that followed the then-Notre Dame recruit (and seemingly half of the Notre Dame Stadium crowd that day) prematurely spilling onto the field to celebrate what he thought was a seismic upset of USC, Aldridge meandered his way to the Notre Dame locker room.

There he found Brady Quinn, Notre Dame's quarterback at the time, still replaying the final frustrating seconds of the epic 2005 meeting between the Irish and USC.

"He said, 'Make sure this doesn't happen again,'" recalled Aldridge, now a senior fullback for the Irish. "'That's why we're bringing guys like you in.' The message stuck."

But the bottom line has moved drastically in the other direction.

After the 34-31 shortfall in 2005, the Irish fell 44-24 the next year at USC, then 38-0 in the second-most-lopsided loss at Notre Dame Stadium in 2007, then 38-3 in a game last season that was statistically even uglier than the others -- "lowlighted" by no first downs until the third quarter and a coach Charlie Weis era low of four for the game.

Aldridge accounted for 58 of ND's 91 yards in total offense in the 2008 debacle.

"I didn't pay much attention to college football growing up," said the St. Louis native, who played his high school football in Merrillville, Ind. "When I came for the '05 game as a recruit, I was like, 'Holy smokes.' That's when it hit me what this game was all about. I am honored to be part of this tradition between Notre Dame and USC. I just consider it a blessing."

For a while, it didn't look as if Aldridge was going to be blessed to be a part of this year's rivalry renewal between the 25th-ranked Irish (4-1) and No. 6 USC (4-1).

He suffered a shoulder injury in ND's opener against Nevada on Sept. 5 and hasn't played in a game since.

"It was the Bradford injury," said Aldridge, referring to Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford. "Sprained AC joint."

And now that Aldridge has fully recovered, can we expect him to throw a few passes?

"I can throw," he insisted.

And run the Wildcat formation?

"We'll see," he said with a laugh.

What Aldridge is certain of is that shades of the atmosphere that confirmed that ND was the right place for him in 2005 are stirring around campus this week.

"It's a buzz," Aldridge said. "Everybody is trying to get tickets. There are cousins coming out of the woodwork. Everybody wants to be a part of this weekend. It's special. It's a special thing to be a part of."

Floyd update

Michael Floyd

Scott Boehm/Getty Images

The Irish got some good news Tuesday when it was revealed that receiver Michael Floyd could be back sooner than expected.

The best news to hit the Notre Dame football program this week has nothing to do with Saturday's showdown between the Irish and USC.

And it got even better after practice.

Injured wide receiver Michael Floyd returned to the practice field Tuesday afternoon -- way ahead of schedule.

Not enough ahead of schedule that he could play in the game Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, but an early November return to game action is now possible.

Weis said at his Tuesday news conference that the best-case scenario was Floyd being available as early as ND's Nov. 14 road test at Pittsburgh. But that projection was amended after practice to make it Nov. 7 versus Navy.

Floyd, one of the leading receivers in the nation when he suffered a broken collarbone Sept. 19 against Michigan State, originally was projected to return for a possible bowl game in late December or early January.

The Irish have two regular-season games after the clash with Pittsburgh: Nov. 21 against Connecticut and Nov. 28 at Stanford.

More good news on the injury front: Halfback Armando Allen (ankle) and outside linebacker Darius Fleming (hamstring) are full-go for Saturday after missing entire games or parts of games recently. Quarterback Jimmy Clausen's turf toe injury is better, Weis said, but he admits it won't be fully healed until after the season.

Clausen, in fact, still skips the more taxing agility drills in practice. Floyd did the same Tuesday, and he gingerly ran around in full pads without catching any passes or having any contact.

He did catch plenty of grief from his teammates and Weis, though.

"Oh, you're on the Clausen program," Weis joked.

Irish items

  • Weis' Hannah & Friends charity will hand out 10,000 rally towels to students attending the Notre Dame-USC football game on Saturday.

  • Fred Leahy, son of former Irish coach Frank Leahy, will be in town this weekend and will tour the expanded Notre Dame Stadium for the first time.

    Eric Hansen covers Notre Dame for ESPNChicago.com and the South Bend Tribune.

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