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Allen: Eifert holds key to offensive success (Nov. 2)

Chris Allen | Thursday, November 1, 2012

Welcome to a three-game mini-season inside the 2012 football season. Three games, three inferior opponents and three chances for a crushing loss that derails national championship dreams.

Cellar-dwelling ACC teams Boston College and Wake Forest await, but first up is Pittsburgh. Just as the Eagles and Demon Deacons will, Pittsburgh gears up to play its best game against the Irish in the hopes of playing spoiler to a rival’s BCS dreams.

How can the Irish escape this three-game stretch unscathed? If recent form is any indication, the Irish defense will have little trouble keeping the opposing offenses out of the end zone and off the scoreboard. The formula to avoid a cataclysmic upset begins and ends with the offensive production, and that production runs through one player. If the Irish are to get to where they want to be heading to USC – and beyond that, if they are to achieve their postseason goals – they must utilize the best tight end in college football: Tyler Eifert.

Before the 2012 season, most media outlets singled out two Notre Dame players as preseason All-Americans: Eifert and Manti Te’o. The similarities in their seasons end there. While Te’o has been the visible face of the program, earning national acclaim and Heisman Trophy consideration, Eifert has toiled in near obscurity and battled through constant double-teams. But make no mistake – Eifert is the key to Notre Dame’s offense whether he touches the ball or not. He will be absolutely instrumental to avoiding upset losses over the next three weeks, going into the L.A. Coliseum and defeating USC or even besting a powerhouse like Alabama or Oregon in a BCS game. If the Irish are to do these things, Eifert must play like an All-American, with or without the ball.

“You know, Tyler … he impacts our offense incredibly,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said Oct. 6 after defeating Miami.  “They are paying a lot of attention to him and it’s opened up a lot of things.”

As the season wears on into the month of November, the physical nature of every football team in the collegiate game is tested. These are the games that are won on the ground, at the line of scrimmage. The ability of Notre Dame’s offensive coaching staff to line up a tight end at wide receiver – one with the skill set to demand constant double-teams on the outside – has opened up the Irish running game and enabled the offensive line to establish its physical presence on football games.

More than anything, Eifert’s 2012 season has shown the impact of Irish coach Brian Kelly’s program on an individual level. An All-American with only 22 catches through eight games? Players in many programs, especially a receiving position, would have opened their mouths to grumble a long time ago. But Eifert has worked even harder in sacrificing his individual statistics for the good of the team. Against Oklahoma, there he was again blocking two Sooner defenders on Cierre Wood’s 62-yard touchdown in the first quarter. This is a player recruited by Charlie Weis, but who embodies the Brian Kelly program with every action he takes. The leadership on this team is more than just Te’oEifert is showing it too.

Being undefeated this late in the season is uncharted territory for nearly all of the people involved in the Notre Dame football program in 2012. When it gets to crunch time, if this team is to be great, great players will need to make great plays.

Notre Dame is, first and foremost, a team. But it is a team with many exceptional players. Tyler Eifert is one of these players. For Notre Dame to raise a crystal football, No. 80 must sparkle brighter than the trophy he hopes to hoist.


Contact Chris Allen at callen10@nd.edu

The views in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.