Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 17, 2022

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

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Page 4 of 55 SEPT. 17, 2022 5 H ead coaches aren't supposed to be in the excuse-making b u s i n e s s. No t re Da m e 's Marcus Freeman has done well to not steer down that path. He hasn't thrown anyone under the bus or deflected his 0-2 start as the Fighting Irish's head coach onto anyone else. He has owned the losses and said both times the opposing team outplayed his own in the end. But after the Ohio State loss, he made reasonable points — not ex- cuses — in reference to the poor play of the Notre Dame offense line in a 21-10 season-opening loss to the No. 2 Buckeyes. He's entitled to that, too. "We're kind of inexperienced," Freeman said. "I think sometimes you get the misperception that, 'Hey, we got experience.' No, we don't. We've got a young offensive line and a new offensive line coach." He's right, to some degrees. Tackles Blake Fisher and Joe Alt, for instance, were prematurely anointed as Godsends. Remember: they're still true sophomores. Fisher made his first of three career starts against Florida State on the road in a season opener as a true freshman, started versus No. 9 Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl after four months of nursing a knee injury and then took the field to play No. 2 Ohio State on the road in another season opener. He hasn't had any time to ease into his college career. Alt started his ninth game against the Buckeyes. Only three of those came against ranked teams — Cincinnati, Oklahoma State and Ohio State. Notre Dame lost all three. Alt generated his buzz and fanfare by steamrolling the likes of Virginia, Georgia Tech and Stan- ford — the No. 121, No. 117 and No. 113 total defenses in the country in 2021. Senior center Zeke Correll wasn't good against the Buckeyes, but he was making his first start at center since 2020. It was only the third start at cen- ter of his career. Plus, he didn't have his left-hand man, graduate student Jarrett Patterson, next to him. Patterson started for three seasons at center and moved to left guard over the offseason to work in tandem with Correll, but he missed the season opener with a foot sprain. His absence further handi- capped an offensive line that might have been overhyped even with his presence. This is a position group that improves with experience. Four of Notre Dame's starters in Week 1 didn't have a whole lot of it, and senior Andrew Kristofic, playing in place of Patterson, fits into that category. Sure, he started seven games at left guard in 2021. But he only played in four games as a freshman and four more as a sophomore. Those were all blowouts. He garnered garbage time duties. The seven games he started last year were the ones that made Alt look like the next Joe Thomas. USC's No. 88 total defense and North Carolina's No. 95 overall unit were among those. Graduate student Josh Lugg brought 20 starts and 49 games played into Co- lumbus, Ohio. Seldom has he played right guard, though, and it showed. A necessary chemistry with Correll was nonexistent at times. Too often, he looked to the outside when he should have turned inside. Once a tackle, always a tackle? Perhaps. Live game reps can't be entirely simulated in practices. Lugg looked like a lineman who wasn't ready for the well-coached, physical, relent- less pass rush of the Buckeyes. It was a wakeup call in the worst way. "They had a huge challenge," Freeman said. "That defensive line of Ohio State was really talented, really good. I thought early in the game we didn't handle the move- ment as well as I wanted to." What's it all mean? This group needs time to play together. Expe- rience isn't necessarily most ac- curately determined by age. It's a product of reps across the line. Patterson needs to get back on the field to give coach Harry Hies- tand the five he'll work with for the remainder of the season. But maybe those aren't the five after all. Hiestand needs to reexamine being adamant Notre Dame's most po- tent combination exists when Correll is at center. Patterson would not have played as poorly as Correll if he was healthy and starting in the middle. Hiestand needs to reevaluate Lugg as a guard, too. It's hard to sit a sixth-year player, but it's not hard to sit someone who's not helping Notre Dame succeed. His experience is of value only so long as he's proving it to be valuable. Against Ohio State, he did not do that. Hiestand is the best judge of what should happen. The loss to Ohio State and the way it manifested should serve as grounds for a refined assessment of what this group has, what it is and what it can be. The potential is still there, and the production will elevate with the expe- rience Freeman craves. But right now, everything needs to be on the table for the sake of improvement. ✦ GOLDEN GAMUT TYLER HORKA Tyler Horka has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2021. He can be reached at The first game back for Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand was not particularly pretty in a 21-10 loss to Ohio State. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER The Offensive Line Needs Time To Develop

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