2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 71 of 163

70 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW OFFENSIVE LINEMEN T estament of Notre Dame's offensive line glory has been highlighted in recent years and months. First, in 2017 the Fighting Irish front re‑ ceived the Joe Moore Award that is bestowed on the nation's top offensive line. Moore was Notre Dame's offensive line coach from 1988‑96. This winter, three of the five starters on the 2019 Associated Press first‑team NFL All‑ Pro offensive line were Notre Dame alumni: left tackle Ronnie Stanley (Baltimore), left guard Quenton Nelson (Indianapolis) and right guard Zack Martin (Dallas). A fourth, center Jason Kelce, played for current Irish head coach Brian Kelly and of‑ fensive line coach Jeff Quinn at Cincinnati. So did recently retired 2010s NFL All‑De‑ cade tackle Joe Staley, who was instructed by Kelly and Quinn at Central Michigan. Finally, this May CBS Sports had a list of its best playmaker at each position for the 2020 season. When it came time to award an offensive lineman, author Barrett Sallee simply listed "Notre Dame." "Offensive lines aren't exactly playmak‑ ers, they're play facilitators," he wrote. "Give this award to a Notre Dame unit that is loaded with returning talent. … If they're going to get back to the College Football Playoff, it'll be up to the big guys up front to get the job done." With no established (yet) alpha figures at running back and wide receiver, tight end Cole Kmet opting to bypass his senior year to become a second‑round NFL pick, and veteran quarterback Ian Book a borderline NFL prospect — unlike recent and current CFP figures such as Joe Burrow, Tua Ta‑ govailoa, Trevor Lawrence, Justin Fields, Baker Mayfield and Kyler Murray — much of Notre Dame's hopes literally "lay it on the line" (see front cover). Meanwhile, Pro Football Focus, had four of Notre Dame's five offensive line‑ men among the top 30 returning in college football in 2020. The only other Power Five school with multiple members was Kentucky. Still, several variables are in play before living up to the immense expectations. The first is bouncing back from injuries. Senior left guard Aaron Banks, up to perhaps an unwanted 335 pounds, had foot surgery this winter and would have been sidelined all spring. Fifth‑year senior right guard Tommy Kraemer missed the final six 2019 games with a knee injury, while senior right tackle Robert Hainsey was shelved the final five with a fractured ankle. Second is proving it can impose its will with the run against the better defenses after averaging only 60.3 yards on the ground in its last three losses, to Clemson (2018), and then Georgia and Michigan last year. Finally, for all the success Quinn has had working with Kelly for three decades, he is a popular lightning rod of criticism. It is akin to Jim Colletto succeeding Moore in 1997 and departing two seasons later. Likewise, Quinn often is in the shadow of former line coach Harry Hiestand (2012‑17), who mentored the current All‑Pros. Much indeed will be on the collective line this year. ✦ NOTABLE DATA One number from Football Outsiders best illustrates the frustrations of failed first-down conversions in short-yardage situations. In 2018, Notre Dame ranked 23rd nationally with a 78.3 power success rate, which measures the per- centage of runs on third or fourth down with two or fewer yards to gain that resulted in a first down or touchdown. In 2019, the Irish dropped to 106th with a power success rate of 62.2 percent. Notre Dame converted less than half (46.2) of its third downs with three or fewer yards to go, including pass plays. Still, even with a dip of efficiency in situations offensive lines pride themselves on, Notre Dame ranked among the top 30 in yards per carry and produced its highest-scoring offense under Brian Kelly. A boost in easy conversions would add more fuel to an offense that should score with frequency once again. DRAWING THE LINE An experienced and highly touted front is expected to take a lead role Junior Jarrett Patterson switched from left tackle to start all 13 games at center — a position he had never played before — in 2019. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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