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Offensive line remains optimistic after loss

| Thursday, November 13, 2014

Irish senior guard Nick Martin blocks during Notre Dame’s season-opening 48-17 win over Rice on Aug. 30.WEI LIN | The Observer
Irish senior guard Nick Martin blocks during Notre Dame’s season-opening 48-17 win over Rice on Aug. 30.

As Notre Dame looks to rebound from last week’s loss with a win against Northwestern, much of the attention will be focused on the Irish offensive line’s ability to protect senior quarterback Everett Golson.

Golson had a hand in a large portion of Notre Dame’s offensive miscues Saturday against Arizona State, including five turnovers off four interceptions and one lost fumble.

Senior captain and offensive lineman Nick Martin said his job description includes keeping his signal caller’s confidence high.

“We obviously reassure him every practice, and we know if we protect him, he’s going to make big plays,” Martin said. “That’s what he’s been doing all year, and there’s no doubt about that we want No. 5 behind us.”

The offensive line has undergone a fair share of transitions throughout the season. 

After the first three games saw Golson sacked six times for 42 total yards lost and the rushing attack pick up only 158 yards per game, the identity of the line was shaken up during Notre Dame’s first bye week, between the Purdue and Syracuse matchups.

In the season opener against Rice on Aug. 30, the line featured junior Ronnie Stanley at left tackle, senior Conor Hanratty at left guard, Martin at center, graduate student Christian Lombard at right guard and sophomore Steve Elmer at right tackle.

Against Arizona State last week, Stanley was the only player who did not change positions. 

The rest of the line read Martin at left guard, senior Matt Hegarty at center, Elmer at right guard and Lombard at left tackle.

Martin said the unit’s job remains the same no matter where or against which team he and his teammates play.

“You’ve just got to lock down your guy,” he said. “You only have to block one guy on each play. You only have one man to block.”

Even with the new look, the line has struggled. Last week, the blitz-heavy Sun Devils sacked Golson seven times for a total 64-yard loss.

Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he was reluctant to put the full blame on the line for that stat.

“We could probably have an hour-long conversation about this — it’s not about simply the offensive line’s inability to pick up the blitz,” Kelly said Tuesday. “This is all synced into, the ball has to come out of your hand on time when they bring the pressure. … So it’s not just on an offensive line’s inability to pick up pressure.  There is more to it than that, so that’s why we’re not pressing the alarm button on our offensive line in this instance.  There are so many factors that have to get better across the board.”

However, Kelly did note the offensive line as a unit shared responsibility for early Notre Dame errors, such as Golson’s fumble in the first quarter, which came on a 13-yards-lost sack and resulted in an Arizona State touchdown.

“Well, interesting enough, we’re in max protection on the first turnover, and we have more blockers than they have blitzers, and we have two guys that get whipped, flat out get whipped,” he said. “[Golson] doesn’t expect to have any pressure on that play.

“The next play, it’s one of those plays where we’re trying to get the hands down of a defensive end, and we whiff on a block. I could go over every one of them.”

Despite those sacks, defensive pressure and turnovers, Martin said he and his linemates were as prepared as they could have been.

“I think the biggest thing is, they didn’t throw anything at us we weren’t ready for,” he said. “We knew what they were going to give us, and that’s what they did. You’ve just got to stay in front of your man, and it goes back to, you’ve only got one man to block each play.”

Trying to come off that performance, Martin said the line is eager to take the field against Northwestern on Saturday.

“We have a chip on our shoulder,” he said. “We want to play next week, and sometimes it’s tough, having a game, and you have to wait a whole week to play again, and we just want to get out there and play the game.”

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