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Don’t blink: Eichenberg powers Notre Dame’s O-line despite injury, lofty expectations

| Friday, November 13, 2020

The general view of offensive line play is that it’s best to not be flashy. Typically, the best sign that an offensive lineman is doing a good job is if no one is talking about him, because that means he hasn’t messed up.

One Notre Dame offensive lineman who has gotten some flak for messing up is Liam Eichenberg. Although he didn’t earn a nickname like his predecessor at left tackle, Mike ‘McFlinchey,” false start penalties seemed to ail the now-graduate student early on in his career and even into last season.

“I mean, yeah, the majority of false starts last season was because we’re on a clap cadence,” Eichenberg said. “It’s the first time, so it was kind of difficult to time off, I guess you could say.”

But don’t take that quote as Eichenberg making excuses. It’s not in his nature. He wouldn’t even let a black eye that looked swollen shut keep him out of this year’s game against Florida State.

“Yeah, my teammates, they just kind of looked at me like, ‘Oh my god.’ I really didn’t realize how bad it was until I got in the locker room,” Eichenberg said of the incident.

Eichenberg said that the biggest issue was not an inability to see, but the difficulty of getting his contact lens in, an endeavor which he said took a full quarter to accomplish. Despite that, he reiterated that he was “just happy to be out there.” And for the grit and determination he showed in playing through that injury, Eichenberg was awarded Barstool Sports’ ‘Football Guy of the Week’ honors.

That’s the kind of mentality that now has Eichenberg poised to be a possible Day 1 NFL Draft selection following this season. He’s cleaned up the mistakes and is playing the best football of his career — just as Notre Dame’s offensive line is making believers of those who saw their 2019 performance as lacking when compared to past Irish line play. Eichenberg credited the veteran nature of the group, one that returned 129 career starts combined among this year’s starters, as a large factor in their success this time around.

But despite the attention the Irish line is getting on a national scale, Eichenberg is largely not interested in the accolades. He has been going about his business, and doing so in impressive fashion. He’s continuing a trend of outstanding play at the left tackle position as established by former Irish standouts Zack Martin, Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey, a standard of play that ultimately led him to join the Irish under former offensive line coach Harry Hiestand back in 2016.

Allison Thornton | The Observer

Irish graduate student left tackle Liam Eichenberg lines up to block during Notre Dame’s 33-9 win over Iowa State in the Camping World Bowl on Dec. 28, 2019.

Eichenberg credits those individuals for leading by example in their desire to represent the blue and gold.

“All those guys I met, it was just kind of like they’d do anything for this program and especially for each other on the offensive line. So, I mean, when I got injured, there was no thought in my mind that was like, ‘I want to stay out for the whole game.’ Like, my first thought was, ‘I need to go back in the game,'” he said of his swollen eye against Florida State.

Another part of that drive to be on the field is Eichenberg’s de facto sworn duty to protect the man standing behind him. Whether it’s making sure Ian Book isn’t getting sacked or defending the third-year, graduate student starter under center against his harshest critics, Eichenberg is ready and willing.

“There’s a lot of people who doubt Book … it’s not great to see,” he said. “… it just sucks because, you know, I see how hard he works every single day, and in the offseason, in the film room, on the field, in the weight room. The amount of time he’s dedicated and sacrificed to help this football team win and for us to take the next step in the right direction. And I mean, I think Ian’s the best quarterback in the country. I’ll say that every single day. I think he’s the best leader on our team. So I believe in him and the offensive line 100% believes in him.”

Book should feel comfortable playing behind a teammate who not only has such faith in him, but one with the capability of blocking two pass rushers simultaneously as he did against Pittsburgh three weeks ago.

Suffice to say that Eichenberg has played no small part in developing a stellar Notre Dame offensive line, one that has consistently been rated the top line in the country by Pro Football Focus. They even managed to maintain that ranking by a solid margin following a duel with former-No. 1 Clemson’s vaunted defensive front.

Expectations were high for the unit coming into the season. After the Florida State game, Eichenberg credited those expectations as an effective motivating factor.

“[Notre Dame mental performance coach] Dr. [Amber] Selking always talks about how pressure is a privilege. So that’s kind of where we take it.”

They’re now taking that mindset into a date with Boston College on the road. Indicative of the mentality that head coach Brian Kelly has instilled in the Notre Dame program, Eichenberg was quick to put the win over Clemson behind him, and he was effusive in praising their next opponent.

“We need to play BC. BC’s a great team,” he said. “They’re a great defense … they’re a stout, tough, physical defense. So, I mean, it’s not going to be a walk in the park. I mean, it’s like every game, you know, you got to get out there and you got to play physical, you got to make your blocks. And, you know, anybody can win. So we’re looking forward to it.”

For a position group that just helped produce more than 200 yards rushing against Clemson for the first time since Alabama did it on Jan. 9, 2017, one might worry this line could begin to rest on its laurels against a 5-3 Boston College team. But with Eichenberg and a group pushing (no pun intended) for the Joe Moore Award and a national championship, the grind doesn’t stop.

“Obviously, we need to improve on a lot of things… there’s always room to improve, but I think we’re going in the right direction. We just need to keep going.”

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About Hayden Adams

Hayden is a senior double majoring in Physics and Film, Television & Theatre with a minor in Journalism, Ethics & Democracy. He is a proud son of the state of Kentucky and member of Zahm House. Feel free to provide him procrastination material in the form of lively discussion about college football and basketball or the genius of the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Contact Hayden