Offensive and defensive lines shine for Notre Dame to start season
Joe Everett | Sunday, September 3, 2017
Grit. Attitude. Attention to detail.
The traits head coach Brian Kelly and his staff have harped on throughout the offseason began to appear during Notre Dame’s 49-16 win over Temple Saturday afternoon, but they shone through in one particular area of the field: the trenches.
Notre Dame’s offensive and defensive lines were arguably the difference in the game, and the two position groups will play a major role in determining what kind of year Notre Dame has.
Let’s start with the offensive line.
The Irish (1-0) bulldozed the Owls (0-1) to the tune of 422 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while averaging 9.6 yards per attempt. Even though Temple consistently put eight or nine players in the box, Notre Dame’s offensive line still opened up sizable holes for its stable of running backs, who often broke loose and ripped off significant chunks of yardage throughout the afternoon. Notre Dame graduate student captain and left tackle Mike McGlinchey said after the game that he took a tremendous amount of pride in how the Irish offense was able to run the ball.
“That’s how we want it — we want the game on our shoulders up front, and we’ve been preparing for that for nine months now,” McGlinchey said. “[Offensive coordinator Chip] Long’s given us the opportunity — he trusts us up front — and were thankful for that … it certainly feels good knowing the game ran through us.”
Kelly said that, while he was not surprised that the Irish found success running the football, it was a bit surprising where they found it.
“I told McGlinchey and [senior offensive lineman] Quenton [Nelson], thank God for the right side,” Kelly said. “Because if you look at how everything was run, it was the right side. It just happened that, you know, even late in the game, we kept — just where the ball was, you know, we had to call on the right side of the offensive line. So I love the fact that we — when we needed to run the ball, we could go behind [senior Alex] Bars and [sophomore Tommy] Kraemer and [freshman Robert] Hainsey and not have to just rely on Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. You know, when you step back, that’s pretty good; that you’ve got the confidence that you can go on either side of the ball.”
The Irish have two preseason All-Americans and projected first-round NFL draft picks in Nelson and McGlinchey on the left side, but the strength of the right side was a bit of a question mark, especially at right tackle where Kraemer and Hainsey, who are splitting time at the position, are the only non-seniors on the offensive line. However, they looked like they belonged Saturday, and McGlinchey praised their performance and their preparation throughout the offseason.
“I think they both did a great job,” McGlinchey said. “Rob and Tommy are two of the best guys you’ll ever meet. They’ve been preparing as hard as anybody’s been preparing over the last nine months. I’m so proud of those guys — they come to work every day and it’s a hard job being the only new guy on the offensive line, especially with what we demand up front. The two of them have done a great job and put themselves in a great position for success … I think both of them had a pretty good day today.”
All in all, junior running backs Josh Adams and sophomore Dexter Williams and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush rushed for over 100 yards each behind the work of the offensive line. Whether it was under center, a read option, or a two-back set, Chip Long’s offense looked powerful and purposeful as it marched up the field. After his first win as the starting quarterback, Wimbush praised the credentials of the unit and for their huge role in the overall success of the offense.
“That offensive line is pretty special,” Wimbush said. “I don’t know how many offensive lines there have been like this one at this University. This unit is really special — they’ve worked their tail off … and to have three guys rush hit 100 rushing yards obviously speaks to their dedication up front.”
Now, let’s talk about the defensive line.
Notre Dame only allowed 85 yards rushing to Temple on 37 carries. Add in the fact that the Irish totaled three sacks and 11 tackles for loss. The unit clearly possessed grit and attitude. It made disruptive plays and came up with stops in key situations. And while there are still many things that can be improved upon, as sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes noted postgame, this performance was a great building block for the unit.
“I think this is a great start,” Hayes said. “We were setting the tempo, getting to the quarterback and in the guy’s face a little bit. Obviously we’re far from where we could be, so we got to continue to take that process day by day, game by game to create more pressure.
“ … There is no ceiling for this team and for our position group. I know these guys are hungry and they come to practice each and every day ready to work.”
What was more surprising than the relative success of the unit was the depth and rotation of its personnel throughout the game. Ten players rotated in and out of the defensive line for the Irish on Saturday, and Kelly believes sticking to that game plan will pay dividends in the long run.
“It’s really a matter of to keep these guys fresh and playing at the level that they need to — they are going to have to play,” Kelly said. “And so we had a fixed rotation of how they were going to play early and throughout. We trust them. We’re going to stick with that. They believe in us and the system that we have put together for them and we aren’t going to waiver from it … there’s areas of improvement, but I love their mental state. I love where they are in terms of what they are going to do for us every week. We’ll be excited to go coach them again.”
Next Saturday, Notre Dame will square off against a much stronger opponent on paper, No. 15 Georgia. Facing the Bulldogs (1-0) next week should thus serve as a better marker for where both units are at. The defensive line will be tasked with slowing down Nick Chubb and Sony Michael, while the offensive line will face a Georgia front-seven that returns all its starters from last season. However, having run for over 400 yards Saturday — a feat the Irish did not accomplish in any game last season — and recorded three sacks — three more than the Irish had in their first three games last season — Notre Dame showed, as Kelly called it in his postgame press conference, the “really critical pieces to a good football team.”