Hartnett: Irish should be rejuvenated, encouraged from bye week (Sept. 26)
Brian Hartnett | Thursday, September 25, 2014
In the chaos of the short college football season, a bye week offers a chance for necessary respite.
It allows teams to make personnel changes, rest injured players and watch the competition.
I didn’t sit in on Notre Dame’s off-week practices and workouts, but from the sound of it, the Irish did all three of these things. And they needed to do all these things because Notre Dame is an undefeated team with plenty of room for improvement.
On the personnel side, Notre Dame likely will make changes on its offensive line, possibly moving around four-fifths of the unit. Irish head coach Brian Kelly said the changes listed on this week’s depth chart are not finalized, but projections show changes at everywhere but the left tackle position held by Ronnie Stanley.
In this case, change might not be a bad thing. After allowing only eight sacks in 13 games last season, the offensive line has allowed six sacks through three games this year. In addition, the line has failed to create many opportunities for running backs during the last two games, in which Notre Dame has averaged 2.7 yards per rush.
Maybe the problems with the running game lie more with the running backs themselves or the run-blocking scheme. But proposed changes like the move of Christian Lombard back to right tackle, which he played two seasons ago, or Steve Elmer to a more physical inside position show that the Irish coaching staff is wiling to tackle the problem.
And that’s a good thing. If Notre Dame is going to be elite, it needs to establish a ground game against the fast, physical defenses of Stanford and Florida State.
Along those lines, another qualification for an elite team is depth, and in many positions, the Irish don’t yet possess that. That issue partially has been addressed through the insertion of so many freshmen —11 of them at last count.
Players like Drue Tranquill, Kolin Hill, Daniel Cage, Grant Blankenship and Andrew Trumbetti, among others, have made up for what they lack in years with increased game exposure, and an extra week of practice could only have helped them grow more comfortable in their roles.
Of course, depth isn’t always about finding new players — it’s also about rehabbing and bringing back injured players to fill key positions. Notre Dame is expected to welcome several players back for Saturday’s game — captain Austin Collinsworth, the team’s most experienced member of the secondary, is set to return, while Cole Luke and Trumbetti are also listed as likely to play against Syracuse.
Even Torii Hunter Jr. — who is expected to make his first college start Saturday — could be another target for Everett Golson. The importance of additional targets cannot be understated given the relative lack of inexperience at the receiver position.
It likely won’t be a huge factor against Syracuse, but depth will be a necessity for Notre Dame to survive tough stretches in October and November. A bye week like this last one gives the Irish an opportunity to reload for late-season games.
For football fans like me, the most enjoyable part of bye week is watching other college games, and Notre Dame had to be encouraged by what its players saw.
For as much as I have talked about elite teams, there doesn’t seem to be many of them this year. Florida State needed a late-game implosion from Clemson, Oregon barely escaped Washington State, Alabama turned the ball over four times, Oklahoma allowed over 500 yards and Auburn benefitted from numerous Kansas State miscues. That was just the top five — there were quite a few upsets and other disappointing performances across the top-25.
These performances had to be encouraging for Notre Dame. Although the Irish have their own issues, so does every other team in the nation.
With an early bye week, the Irish got a chance to work on these issues, and from all indications, everything seemed to go well.
But the bye week can be considered truly effective only if the Irish apply what they learned from it over the rest of the season, starting this weekend.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.