2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 85 of 163

84 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE LINEMEN W hile Notre Dame's offensive line ex- perience and past production might make that unit the strongest position from the 2020 team on paper, the defen- sive line could provide a challenge to that preseason distinction. • Both lines are expecting to start two fifth-year seniors: Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer on offense, and ends Dae- lin Hayes and Ade Ogundeji on defense. • Both are also slated to start a pair of se- niors up front, Robert Hainsey and Aaron Banks on offense, and interior men Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa on defense. • Neither unit has a bona fide preseason All-American or sure-fire first-round se- lection, but both have enough talent and promise to rank among the finest collec- tive units in the country. A primary difference is unlike on of- fense where continuity and rhythm along the line are essential, the defensive rota- tion is much more liberal — and that's where the Fighting Irish defensive front could benefit the most. Even last year despite a season-ending injury in September to Hayes, who had been playing the best football of his ca- reer, and then Julian Okwara Nov. 9, the line didn't skip a beat thanks to sound recruiting and development. Eight different players along the defen- sive front played at least 228 snaps, with the graduated Khalid Kareem's 561 snaps at the top. Yet even Kareem's total comes out to only 43.1 per game, well below the red-line level of about 50. A few years earlier, it was not uncom- mon for starters to average 50 to 60 snaps or more per contest, resulting in some late-season fatigue, including a four-game losing streak in November 2014. The interior in particular needs a strong tag-team duo with Hinish and sophomore Jacob Lacey at nose, and Tagovailoa- Amosa and junior Jayson Ademilola at the three-technique. By today's standards, it's not a massive unit, and that quartet this spring was listed at a collective 6-2, 288 pounds. There is not a space-eating, immov- able force like in 2012 with a 326-pound Louis Nix in the middle, nor a play- making 300-pound three-technique such as first-round selection Jerry Tillery in 2018. To compensate, Notre Dame might need to rely more on its depth to keep legs fresh. The defensive end positions also will likely see a rotation similar to last year, with juniors Ovie Oghoufo and Justin Ademilola, plus sophomore Isaiah Foskey, as regulars behind Hayes and Ogundeji. Such depth will especially need to fa- cilitate the run defense, which has been solid but not at championship level. Last year, Notre Dame finished 60th against the run with a clip of 151.3 yards allowed per contest. The two teams playing in the title game of the College Football Play- off, LSU and Clemson, were at 120.8 and 116.1, respectively, while CFP semifinalist Ohio State was at 103.7. However, after permitting an alarming 249 and 212 rushing yards in the first two contests versus Louisville and New Mex- ico, Notre Dame allowed only 139.0 over the final 11 games in 2019. This included a 281-yard performance by Navy — but that was 79 yards under its nation-leading 360.5 average during a 52-20 Irish victory. That's akin to limiting a 200-yard team to 121. If Notre Dame can keep the rushing to- tal in the 120-140 range — last achieved, and way above norm, in 2012 with a 105.7 mark during a 12-0 regular season — the defensive line just might take over as the top position group on the team. ✦ PULLING THEIR WEIGHT Depth may need to aid veteran defensive line's lack of superior size Senior Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa's 477 snaps last season at defensive tackle are the most among any re- turning Notre Dame defensive lineman. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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