July 22, 2010

The Houdini Career of Armando Allen &The Demise of the Once Vaunted Power Running Attack

A couple months back, Jeremy posted his (excellent) Class of '07 Recruiting Review exploring how effective that heralded class has actually been in terms of production and impact. One thing stood out to me that I'm finally getting around to expounding on: Armando Allen's underwhelming career to date.

Of course, Charlie deserves some (a heaping? the lion's share?) of the blame here. For all his blather about bringing back a smash-mouth, run your opponent into the ground offense, it never materialized. Not even close. Charlie was married to his aerial assault like a stubborn cuckold. Not to mention the team played from behind enough that many 2nd half running scripts were discarded like lost trifecta tickets. Also, Charlie's inability to develop a dependable and cohesive offensive line to create any semblance of a surge thwarted the team's rushing efforts, particularly around the goal line.

Maybe Armando is a victim of circumstance, a RB in the wrong place at the wrong time.

These facts we know. Allen came in as a much-ballyhoed recruit and has worked as the 1 or 1A back for three seasons. His versatility as a pass-catching back (102 receptions for 695 yards) is his greatest asset as it adds a dimension that defenses have to account and plan for every snap. He's carried the ball 362 times, good for 16th all-time in school history, for a total of 1,630 rushing yards (4.5 yards/carry) and 6 TD's.

Here's where I'm compelled to take Armando to task. He's been given ample opportunity to make a difference, and fallen short. His totals reflect an aversion for the big play (an anemic career long run of 26 yards...that's unfathomably lame. If only he could line up against the Irish D...) and an allergy for the end zone. It bears repeating - in 3 years, Allen has 6 rushing touchdowns. Prescribe the kid some penicillin or something.

To see how Allen's body of work stacks up against his RB predecessors, I compiled the following table in terms of career rushing attempts:


Player

Attempts

Yards

Yds / Carry

TD’s

1.

A. Pinkett

889

4,131

4.6

49

2.

A. Denson

854

4,318

5.0

43

3.

D. Walker

693

3,249

4.6

17

4.

Ferguson

673

3,472

5.2

32

5.

J. Jones

634

3,018

4.8

26

6.

J. Heavens

590

2,682

4.5

15

7.

R. Grant

570

2,220

3.9

18

8.

P. Carter

557

2,409

4.3

14

9.

N. Worden

476

2,039

4.3

29

10.

T. Brooks

423

2,274

5.4

12

11.

R. Kinder

404

2,295

5.7

18

12.

T. Fisher

384

1,849

4.8

15

12.

T. Rice

384

1,921

4.9

23

14.

M. Green

382

1,977

5.2

15

15.

G. Gipp

369

2,341

6.3

21

16.

A. Allen

362

1,630

4.5

6

16.

E. Sitko

362

2,226

6.1

26

18.

L. Becton

347

2,029

5.8

12

19.

J. Bettis

337

1,912

5.7

27

20.

Schwartz

335

1,945

5.8

17

21.

J. Crowley

294

1,841

6.3

15

22.

D. Miller

283

1,933

6.8

17


After you've had fun comparing these legendary names, Allen's numbers stand out like a priest at a Justin Bieber concert. In case you didn't crunch them, he ranks dead last on this list for yards and touchdowns, and tied for 18th on yards per carry. The closest RB in yardage, Jim Crowley, shared the workload with three other "Horsemen," while the closest in TD's, Tony Brooks, split carries with three other guys on the list, among others, and still doubled Allen's output.

I would love to see Armando have a Julius Jones circa '03 redemption year and prove his doubters wrong. I just don't see it happening. Maybe Brian Kelly's spread offense puts Allen in different positions on the field to attack a defense - and break a, dare I say, 30 yard gallop. Hopefully Kelly instills a greater learning curve in his big uglies to push the pile around the goal line. Punching it in from short is ever the more reliable source of points, an assertive "Eff you, we're scoring and you can't stop us." In contrast, Charlie couldn't resist his gimmicky touch passes and timing routes, trying to one-up his coaching counterpart with needless chicanery.

Which brings me to my next point - Notre Dame's power running attack, or lack thereof. Everyone knows the buzzword in college playbooks is "Spread Offense." But that doesn't necessarily mean an over-reliance on throwing the football. The best teams still dominate by establishing the run and dictating the flow of the game. They score just as many, if not more, touchdowns on the ground than through the air. Charlie missed the memo on the critical importance of finding success through the team's ability to rush for touchdowns.

Building on the exploration into Armando's end zone deficiency, I diagnosed one large symptom of failure - team rushing TDs. To be sure, there's an exhaustive list of reasons for the abject failure of '07-'09 (3-9, 7-6, 6-6 respectively), but this litmus test looked compelling. In those three forgetful seasons, Charlie racked up whopping team totals of 11, 11 and 13 TDs for each season. Those didn't look good. I wanted a bigger sample size to compare with.

Despite the bountiful wonders of the Internet, it was damn near impossible to find team statistics going back much further than 1995 - about the time Al Gore tied a ribbon on his world wide web invention. Thankfully, my parents didn't throw away my football yearbook collection dating back to 1991. (Note: If I'm in the dark on a one-stop reference for ND and college statistics, please clue this hombre in).

With 19 years worth of data, I tested my hypothesis: how much does a team's rushing TD total affect their ability to win games?

Year

Team
Rushing TDs

# of Players
with 6+ TDs

Season
Record

1991

37

2

10-3

1992

35

2

10-1-1

1993

36

3

11-1

1994

18

0

6-5-1

1995

32

3

9-3

1996

34

3

8-3

1997

22

1

7-6

1998

22

1

9-3

1999

25

1

5-7

2000

24

2

9-3

2001

16

1

5-6

2002

15

1

10-3

2003

13

1

5-7

2004

17

1

6-6

2005

21

2

9-3

2006

14

1

10-3

2007

11

0

3-9

2008

11

0

7-6

2009

13

0

6-6


As plain as day, there seems to be a distinct correlation (my Stats professor would be disappointed I didn't try a full regression plot to test correlation in this instance, but I hated that class).

Seasons (5) with 32-37 team rushing TDs: 48-11-1 (.800 winning pct.)
Seasons (5) with 21-25 team rushing TDs: 39-22 (.639)

Seasons (4) with 15-18 team rushing TDs: 27-20-1 (.563)
Seasons (5) with 11-14 team rushing TDs: 31-31 (.500)


Looks like a pretty straight forward formula - (1) move ball on offense (2) run ball into end zone (3) repeat ad nauseum (4) watch wins pile up. Apparently, the correlation is more direct if you share the wealth.

Seasons (7) with 2 or more players with 6+ TDs: 66-17-1 (.786)

Seasons (8) with 1 player with 6+ TDs: 57-41 (.582)

Seasons (4) with 0 players with 6+ TDs: 22-26-1 (.449)


Quite the irony that Charlie "Decided Schematic Advantage" Weis presided over 4 of the 5 worst team totals and 3 of 4 goose eggs in terms of finding a consistent end zone threat(s) out of the backfield.

Wondering how Coach Kelly's spread offense conforms to this rushing study? His three seasons at Cincy provide this snapshot:

2007 (10-3) - 20 team rushing TDs, 1 player with 6+ TDs
2008 (12-2) - 15 team rushing TDs, 1 player with 6+ TDs

2009 (12-1) - 23 team rushing TDs, 1 player with 6+ TDs


It's safe to say Coach Kelly values the importance of establishing the run much more than Weis. Whatever intangible mental edge it gives the team certainly translated into wins for the Bearcats. With an eager stable of veteran backs, Kelly should have no trouble building on this philosophy. Robert Hughes should see the bulk of red zone carries and become well-adjusted to celebrating within the diagonal lines. Armando and Jonas Gray will split gamebreaker duties and should both score their share of TDs. Factor in Crist's mobility and a more conservative playbook in Year 1 geared to running and I'd expect no less than 20 team rushing TDs. If the O-line gels and that number surges into the 30's, expect a BCS trip.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hey, it could be worse. Allen could have had a career (so far) like James Aldridge.

I'm more inclined to side with Allen on this issue. First, he played on perhaps the worst offensive team and o-line in Irish history as a freshman. Second, his coaching never set him up for success. I think he's a product of the team probably more than any other player.

At least he looked A LOT better last year, and his YPC isn't that terrible, even if it isn't up to par with the Irish greats. He'd have more TD's if Hughes didn't get all the glory and carries anywhere near the goal line.

His lack of a big run is his biggest weakness, but that could all change this year. He ain't done yet! Maybe he'll never turn into a great runner, but I've always like him. At least he's shown up against good teams. Check out Hughes' stats against any top 50 defense...his YPC is so bad you won't even believe it.

No mention of Cierre Wood!?!? I've got a feeling he'll be injecting a ton of life into the ground game this year.

Erick said...

I believe this blog post has merely scratched the surface of AA's issues. Its so sad that ND fans have dealt with such poor running for so long that we now just give excuses for a player's inability to make plays. The two most popular excuses are O Line play and Weis's scheme. Those are simply excuses ESPECIALLY LAST YEAR. If this was true, why is it that AA average 4.9 and Tate averaged 7.4 per carry and Riddick averaged 5.5 last season. Same scheme... same O Line. I rewatched the games on Hulu. Against Nevada, AA had 15 carries. Eight times, he was untouched at the first level. EIGHT! He was tackled three time by his shoelaces. THREE! Against MSU, he had 24 carries. Nine times he was untouched at the first level. He was tackled by his laces three times again and he fell down on his own once.

Every AA support believes that a RB should not be touched. The cold hard truth is the AA can't hit the home run because he can't outrun LBs and DBs and he can't make people miss. He goes down on first contact. Weis's love for AA was his demise. It's without question that Tate was our best runner and playmaker. Tate touched the ball on average, 10 times per game. In the eight games AA played, he touched the ball 21 times per game. AA has been given more than enough opportunities. Riddick and Wood are the future. AA will be a third down back and Hughes will be goalline.

I like the kid but lets be realistic. There was nothing he has done to warrant touching the ball 20+ times a game. Riddick had one carry for 24 yards against Purdue and he was rewarded with more limited appearances. I am ready to see the ball in play makers hands.