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What's Wrong With the Offensive Line?

Written by Connor D'Aquila ⏐ Writer ⏐ Twitter:@ConnorDaquilaIT


Photo via Timothy D. Easley | AP Photo


Last Saturday night was forgettable all around for this Notre Dame squad, but perhaps no group was more disappointing than the offensive line. They allowed Hartman no time to breathe and were not getting any push for the run game to gain meaningful yards. When we see Joe Alt get put on his back by an opposing rusher, it is not a good sign for the line. This performance was a disappointing departure from what we had been seeing and from what many people considered one of the best lines in the country. Headlined by a tackle duo of Joe Alt and Blake Fisher, the NFL talent is there, but questions on the inside have come to fruition and impacted overall production in recent weeks. After starting Pat Coogan, Zeke Correll, and Rocco Spindler from left to right for the entire season, the Irish staff opted to switch mid-game for Andrew Kristoific and Billy Schrauth at center and left guard, respectively, against Louisville. Coach Freeman insists that Coogan was banged up and that caused the rotation, but that he will be back this week for USC. No matter the reason, the group did not play nearly well enough, especially for a school that tries to lay claim to “OLU.”


Breaking Down the Performance


Audric Estime came into this game one of the best running backs in the country, averaging over seven yards per carry. This Louisville defense, however, which ranked in the top 40 in rush yards per game allowed entering the weekend, gave the running backs all sorts of trouble. While their D-line is not bad by any means, it is also not elite, and a staggeringly low 1.6 yards per carry, totaling 44 yards against them is unacceptable. Jeremiyah Love was able to get loose a few times, but it was not enough. It was evident throughout the game that they were getting no push down the middle, but Coach Parker continued going back to it. This led to a constant stacking of the box by the defense, much like Ohio State did. In this game, however, Estime could only reach a total of 20 yards on a two-yard-per-carry average compared to 70 total and five YPC against OSU. Moving forward, this team is set up around the run, and it will be hard for the offense to find success without a successful run game.


Equally concerning was the performance in pass protection. After protecting the ball extremely well for the beginning of the season, Sam Hartman ended the Louisville game with an alarming three interceptions, two fumbles, and five sacks. While some of this does fall on Sam, he also had almost no time to throw. I would also blame the first pick on Rico Flores, but regardless, the most striking aspect of the game film is the lack of time. The five sacks in this game were almost as much as the total of six for the six games prior. It is hard to be successful at quarterback without time to throw, and that was evident last weekend. Keep in mind, this is the same offensive line that allowed no sacks to a strong Ohio State defense. The regression started last week against Duke with two sacks allowed and only five YPC, but it was clearly much worse against Louisville.


What Needs to Change?


Here, we can look at three possible places: OC Gerad Parker, O-Line Coach Joe Rudolph, or the players. Of course, other factors play a role, but the bulk of the blame should fall on these people. The players seem to like Coach Rudolph, but I would argue that a lot of the blame should fall here. They have looked uncharacteristically sloppy thus far with bone-headed false starts and missed assignments, which primarily falls on the coach. At the same time, play-calling has not helped the case. The predictability of calls has allowed defenses to line up effectively, and although Freeman maintains he has no issue with the calls, even a quick watch of the game film shows that defenses are ready for the Irish offense. It is hard for the line to be successful when defenses can do this, and because the offense starts with the line, it becomes very difficult for the team as a whole to see success. Parker has taken a beating from fans and media in recent days, but it is easy to see why when you watch the game back.


All this being said, the players have individually not looked as good as we would hope. Blake Fisher had sky-high expectations entering the season and has not lived up to the expectations recently. We were also hearing good things out of camp on interior guys like Zeke Correll, but he has been one of the biggest problems inside. Joe Alt has expectedly been a bright spot, coming in at number two on Pro Football Focus’s offensive lineman rankings. While this is great, he cannot do it alone, and if the team wants to have any chance against USC, it is vital that the others step up. With a weaker defense, the Trojans offer a great opportunity for a bounce-back game, and fans can only hope that they take advantage.


At the end of the day, the blame cannot completely fall on one person, and the whole offensive unit needs to be better. The lack of criticism from Freeman in recent press conferences is concerning, but hopefully, the rhetoric is different behind closed doors. This weekend will be telling about the ability of the staff and players to adjust and fix the issues, but the outlook is grim if they do not.



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