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Holding the Line: Can Notre Dame's Brutes Avoid Early Blunders?

Written by Liam Gaudet|Senior Editor|Twitter: @LiamGaudetIT


The Notre Dame mentality has always been a nose to the grindstone, ground and pound philosophy that is backed by the individual success of many former Irish greats. The fallacy of this ideology, however, often appears early in the season and has caused massive issues in team performance over the last few years. I'm not by any stretch of the imagination calling the offensive line play weak, but rather inconsistent, especially early on. This is to be expected, especially with lots of personnel turnover, but is there a way to mitigate some of the damage and weather the storm? Let's find out.


Photo by ON3





The History


In order to prove to you that I know what I'm talking about, let's have a look at Notre Dame's last few opening games and evaluate the performance of the offensive line. Last season against the Buckeyes, Notre Dame allowed three sacks and six tackles for loss, whilst only amassing 76 total rushing yards, with the most coming from Chris Tyree with 28. I get it, the Buckeyes are flooded with blue chip prospects, especially on the defensive front. The issue, however, is that these numbers are unacceptable for a program who prides itself on being able to run the football. Does 2.5 yards per carry sound like O-Line U to you? Absolutely not. In 2021, the Irish opened the season against a Florida State team who had yet to recover from years of mediocrity, and were a touchdown favorite in one of the most hostile environments in all of college football. In a game now hailed as "The Execution Game", Notre Dame once again failed to establish the run against the Seminoles, and produced a meager 65 yards of rushing offense, a large reason why the Noles were able to storm back and force overtime in a game that should have been over after the third quarter. Similarly, four sacks and nine - yes nine - tackles for loss were allowed in the season opener at Doak Campbell stadium. We have to go all the way back to 2020 to find a season opener where the Irish were able to rush for over 100 yards, and a big part of that was Ian Book's uncertainty in the pocket. Now it's important to note that the play of the line got much better as the season continued, and it's impossible for them to shoulder the entire blame for these outings. But again, the identity of this team is based around them, and if they can't show up to play on opening day, the season may take a catastrophic hit in Dublin on Saturday.


Photo by NBC Sports





The Outcome


The good news is, a lot of the aggravating factors which lead to some of these inconsistencies have vanished. Firstly, Tommy Rees is in Tuscaloosa, so hopefully the predictability of this offense is now a thing of the past. Don't get me wrong, I don't think Tommy Rees was consistently awful, but I think everybody and their mother knew when and how we were going to run the ball the last few seasons. New faces with something to prove have also emerged, including highly rated recruits in Rocco Spindler and Pat Coogan getting the nod to start in the interior this weekend. Veterans like Joe Alt, the best tackle in college football, should also ease a lot of the tension and settle this group in for what should be a full frontal assault from the front-seven of the Midshipmen. One of the biggest factors in all of this however, will be Sam Hartman. Have fun stacking the box while that guy picks you apart up and down the field. He should also be able to get rid of the ball much faster than Tyler Buchner or Jack Coan ever could considering the experience he brings. Joe Rudolph will also take over for Harry Hiestand, so maybe a change at the helm will bring some more favorable results (and that's a big maybe). And how could we forget about the absolute stable of running backs which could rival any team in the FBS? All in all, even if the offensive line needs a learning curve game, the talent surrounding it is much greater than it has been in a very long time, which makes their lives a hell of a lot easier. What degree of success can we expect, and will the early season line struggles be a thing of the past? For the sanity of myself and those watching, I certainly hope so. Go Irish!



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