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Can the Irish Win the Trench Warfare in South Bend?

By Craig James|Contributor

Photo Credit - ESPN

For years Notre Dame has been known has O-Line U. Consistently pumping out NFL offensive line products, from Quenton Nelson to the Martin brothers, Ronnie Stanley and the entire 2020-21 line has been drafted, minus Tommy Kraemer who was a undrafted pick up for the Lions. But why does Notre Dame have so many question marks at that position now and how will they fare as the season ramps up? This season we have already seen much improvement from last year. Last year Notre Dame was young and especially young up front. Besides Joe Alt holding down the left tackle position, there were many question marks on this year's Irish O-Line.

To start the year the Irish did not get much of a competitive look from their opponents. With a running back like Audric Estime, it is not difficult to run on inferior opponents. But Notre Dame is not going to play inferior teams all year, they have a stretch of very difficult games coming up in the middle and later part of the schedule. Ohio State, USC and Clemson are not going to just let Estime do whatever he wants. I expect Gerad Parker to be creative to work around the deficiencies that the Irish have, but the line needs to improve before they can start thinking about an undefeated season and a National Championship.

NC State was Notre Dame's first real test up front. The Irish came into this game hot off a 56-3 win over Tennessee State. NC State boasts a strong run defense and emphasizes heavily on stopping the run. They will come out in different formations to compliment their three down linemen. To start the game they showed just that, the Wolf Pack came out in a 3-4 defense and blitzed the weakside outside linebacker and the slot corner while jamming the strength side with the other 3 linebackers. The Irish were blown off the ball 2 yards, but Estime luckily powered through for a 1 yard gain. On this play Blake Fisher was pancaked 2 yards off the line of scrimmage. The next play the Wolf Pack again brought pressure on the weakside, but this time from safety Sean Brown. Brown raced around the right tackle and made the play on the other side of the line for another gain of 1. On 3rd and 8 Nc State brought pressure up the middle and the entire line got pushed back for a sack and a loss of 10. Not the way the Notre Dame hopeful wanted the game to begin.

To start the second drive, Parker drew up a play with both the weakside guard and tackle pulling to the strength with the run direction. While it was a rush for no gain, the Irish began to start pulling different tackles, guards, and even a few times tight ends and receivers the rest of the game. This is significant because while this play didn't work per se, the Irish worked off it. They saw what worked and what didn't work with the pulling, and then attacked the defenses weaknesses with it as the game went on. Attacking with pulling downlinemen not only helps create holes for the back, but it creates more contact on the defense, which in turn wears them down quicker. If you are getting ran into by a freight train like Joe Alt running full speed every play, you are going to ask coach for a break.

The Offense did not run into much success in the first half until after the weather delay. Maybe it was hot dogs or brats or just plain out great play calling. Notre Dame came out after the delay in a power gun formation with the fullback offset opposite of the running back. It was a simple play, Audric Estime up the middle for 80 yards untouched. From there the offensive line progressed and the play calling changed to help minimize the Irish's weaknesses at offensive line. A mixture of Audric Estime, Jeremiyah Love and Jadarian Price continued to pound the ball at the defense and eventually the defense finally broke and the backs were able to find some room to make something happen.

Photo Credit - On3

With a heavy run game, the defense started to bring more pressure, and Notre Dame responded by throwing simple dump off passes and screens to their backs and wideouts. The Irish were very successful on their quick passes which negated any rush the Wolf Pack would attempt. By doing this, it was taking a lot of pressure off of the offensive line, as they now have to hold their block for a second and a half instead of three, maybe four seconds. NC State then had to adjust from rushing five, sometimes six pass rushers to only three so they could defend the pass. The Notre Dame offensive line excelled with a three man rush, but when the defense brought multiple rushers and the dump pass was not open, they struggled.

Giving up four sacks and having many throws effected by pressure, the line must get better before Ohio State comes to South Bend on September 23rd. There is no reason to believe they wont get better, but will they be able to contain the Buckeyes up front and establish the line of scrimmage is the question. Ohio State is bigger and faster on defense than Nc State, but their run schemes shouldn't be much different. The big difference in Ohio States scheme will be their pass rush. The Buckeyes aren't going to just rush three and let Sam Hartman sit in the pocket all day and find open receivers, they are going to come after the offensive line and try to disrupt the pass game. But that is where Gerad Parker comes in. Parker has shown on tape different formations that we clearly can pass out of but are primarily running out of, and running very successfully. He used a tight trips with a single back formation countless times that showed the receivers and linemen pulling around for run support. I expect him to use formations like that to open up the pass game off of the run game's consistent success.

Alleviating the pressure on the offensive line by schemes and getting the ball out faster will lead to success for this team. Audric Estime can open the pass game up by burning the defense at any moment. The Irish will need to start out faster against the Buckeyes than they did against the Wolf Pack or else it will become near impossible to play catch up while establishing the run. An early lead and a strong, long first drive are critical for the success of this team come Saturday night.

1 Comment

Sep 16, 2023

No need to look forward until this Saturday game is over

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