Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 17, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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32 OCT. 17, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED M aybe Ian Book simply forgot he said it, but no one would blame him for placing empha- sis anyway. Twice in the span of a one-minute answer, the grateful quarterback of- fered some glowing praise. "I feel like we have the best O-line in the country," Book said, before wrapping his answer with those same 11 words again. Awarding those superlatives to any unit in college football is a bit pre- mature at the moment, but the Notre Dame front five's three-game audition tape sure is a strong indication the Irish can stake claim to the honor. A 42-26 win over Florida State was 60 minutes of manhandling a defensive front that has disappointed but nonetheless pos- sesses some future NFL Draft picks. The Irish didn't just maul Florida State up front. They stole the Semi- noles defense's soul. Snap. Push. Pun- ish. Again and again and again. All night long. No reason to change it up, even with Book putting forth his most impressive passing effort this year. "When you're able to run like we were tonight, why would you want to stop something that's working like that?" Book said. All told, Notre Dame ran for 353 yards and 8.4 yards per carry, its ninth- highest rushing output in a game since 2000. Only four times this century has it averaged more yards per rush. Those are numbers expected from triple-option attacks. Or passing aver- ages for Air Raid quarterbacks. There were nine runs of at least 10 yards and only one negative rush. Running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree each cleared 100 yards and averaged at least 9.4 yards per carry. Florida State can't say it didn't know what was coming. Notre Dame stuck to its tendencies and ran its outside zone plays, full of the usual counter plays and misdirection, just as it did in its first two games. Yet there were still holes that could've doubled as a helipad. On Williams' first-quarter 46- yard touchdown run, junior tight end Tommy Tremble was his lead blocker — but found no one to block. Even when there weren't chunks, there was almost always positive yardage. No Irish player was tackled behind the line of scrimmage until the final 70 seconds of the third quarter. Notre Dame has allowed six tackles for loss on run plays through three games. Include sacks, and the tackle for loss count jumps to nine. That's three tackles for loss allowed per game. It's a small sample, of course. But consider the context: the nation's average for lowest tackles for loss al- lowed per game last season was 3.29. In a game where parts of Notre Dame's play advertised a three-week layoff, the offensive line and entire rushing operation displayed zero indication they hadn't played since Sept. 19. That's expected from a group that had a combined 114 career starts entering this year and, per Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, didn't suffer any absences during the time away. "When you have an offensive line like we do — one of the best offen- sive lines in the country — there's not much rust in their play," Williams said. "They don't ever show weakness. I'm excited for next week. We're going to try to get the O-line the ball next week. We're going to do what we can." "There's not a group that I've coached like those five guys who work so well together," Kelly added. The outside zone features a lot of lateral movement and second-level as- signments. The line shifts and moves to block a zone of the field and cre- ate cutback lanes that take some time to develop but are there for a patient running back. Notre Dame has the athleticism and physicality up front and vision from its backs to do it. One frequent call was the counter play, where the running back takes a step one way but reverses course to get the handoff going the other. On many of those plays, Notre Dame's pullers beat Florida State defenders to the point of attack and eliminated them from the play. The tight ends, who earned positive reviews for their blocking this year, were effective in that area again. "That's a play I know," Williams said of the counters. "I trust my pull- ers, trust Tommy [Tremble] and the [other] tight ends, Mike [Mayer] and Brock [Wright], coming across and kicking out whoever that is. As you've seen today on the run when Tommy was pulling, he was able to hit the hole and I exploded through." There's some work to do and some stingier competition to beat before visions of the Joe Moore Award (an- nually awarded to the nation's best offensive line) and gaudy Pro Football Focus grades can truly be sold to the masses. Duke, South Florida and Flor- ida State are not mistaken for stout run game opposition. Pitt's defensive line should be a challenge in two weeks. The Panthers held their first four ACC opponents to a combined 3.46 yards per carry, without sacks. Clemson's defense, of course, will be salty too. Still, Notre Dame has a clear offen- sive identity and strength it can take into every game and against any op- ponent and believe that it can succeed. The Irish offense enjoys not only scor- ing, but also the way they're doing it. "They're fun to be out there with," Book said of his offensive line. "That's what I notice the most. I have so much fun out there. I trust all of them." ✦ Fulfilling Big Expectations Up Front ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Sophomore Kyren Williams ran for 185 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, earning help from a stout offensive line. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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