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September 27, 2008Armando Allen hunted this feeling for three years.
The last time the sophomore running back bagged it, he was a just junior at Hialeah-Miami Lakes High School in southern Florida, long before the thought of relocating to Notre Dame crossed his mind.
Saturday against Purdue, Allen rediscovered the sensation that comes with running as a feature back. He had 17 carries for a career-high 134 yards and a touchdown to go with a nine-yard catch and another 105 yards of kickoff returns in Notre Dame's 38-21 win.
Allen running circles around the Boilermakers represented a return to form for a one-time high school prospect so good that he warranted a recruiting fight between Charlie Weis and Urban Meyer.
"Where you been?" Weis joked. "I think that Armando is a very good football player, and a game like this could boost his confidence even more because he knows he's capable of doing it."
That's because Allen has recovered from breaking his ankle and fibula in a preseason game two years ago, an injury so severe it wiped out his senior season of high school before it started. Allen spent this offseason strengthening that ankle, getting it to the point where he trusts it to deliver the kind of cuts that leave linebackers grasping at air.
To understand Allen's breakout performance, consider that entering Saturday's game he'd posted a career-long run of 15 yards. He bettered that distance four times in the third quarter with three 21-yard scampers and a 16-yard touchdown as the offensive line's right side created a path to the end zone.
"I had to get confidence in my ankle and now that I feel better, I can produce," Allen said. "I wouldn't say I was surprised (by the running lanes), we get it a lot in practice all the time. To actually go out there and do it in a game, it was overwhelming."
The only injury Allen suffered Saturday was a hit near his left eye that required stitches.
Notre Dame finished with 201 yards rushing as James Aldridge added eight carries for 34 yards and Robert Hughes chipped in nine carries for 26 yards. It was Notre Dame's fifth 200-yard rushing output in the past 30 games.
"As an offensive line we were able to control the line of scrimmage and reestablish it," said right tackle Sam Young. "Our job is to make Armando's job easy. He found the holes and skated right through them."
The line got a boost from Notre Dame's decision to spread the field against Purdue. The Irish often operated with quarterback Jimmy Clausen in the shotgun formation. ND stretched the Boilermakers defense with Golden Tate and Michael Floyd out wide and a developing Kyle Rudolph at tight end. The alignments, paired with a pass-first mentality, got Purdue worried more about Clausen's arm than Allen's legs.
"We got the defense on their heels a little bit, and any time you can do that it makes the run game a lot easier to execute," said left guard Eric Olsen. "Any time you get a big run that makes the offensive line feel great, it that makes the entire offense feel great."
But nobody felt better than Allen.
After spending more than two years healing, football now looks like the same game Allen dominated at Hialeah-Miami Lakes.
"It feels great to go out there and prove to a lot of people that we can run the ball," Allen said. "The spread offense is a great offense."