Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM OCT. 8, 2022 31 ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at D rew Pyne hit enough of the vic- torious quarterback postgame press conference basics following the 576-yard clinic he oversaw. Credit the play caller? Check. Give a nod to the head coach's leadership? Done. Call Notre Dame's 45-32 defeat of North Carolina a "team win?" Did it in his first answer. Praise the offensive line? Done — over and over. Before Pyne repeatedly lauded the line in front of a microphone somewhere in the bowels of Kenan Stadium Sat- urday night, and before he celebrated the win with any of the linemen in the locker room, he found the architect of the whole thing on field moments after the clock hit zeroes. Pyne doesn't work directly with of- fensive line coach Harry Hiestand. He is, though, privy to the expectations Hies- tand sets for that unit, and not just be- cause he's usually within earshot of the tough love and colorful coaching during practice. When those expectations are met on game day, he's the biggest benefi- ciary. That's not lost on him. Pyne shook Hiestand's hand afterward in what he described as a message of gratitude. "He demands such a high standard for every single one of those guys," Pyne said. "All those guys respond to it really well. Every single day they go in and know it's going to be tough, because Coach Hies- tand holds them to such a high standard. They want that. They want to get better." Four games in, improvement is not only clear, it's the foundation of Notre Dame's renewed optimism and step for- ward after an 0-2 start. The discovery of stability on their line is too late to sal- vage College Football Playoff hopes or even erase the disappointment and con- fusion of its initial disarray. But it ar- rived in plenty of time to offer a glimpse of what Marcus Freeman wants his team to be rooted in each week. When Freeman talks of Notre Dame being a program driven by its offensive and defensive lines, the Irish's physical destruction of North Carolina is what he has in mind. Notre Dame averaged 6.2 carry, ex- cluding sacks and kneel-downs. Three running backs combined for 264 yards and 3 touchdowns. The Irish put the game away with two straight 75-yard drives that officially contained only one pass attempt. They ran through North Carolina even when the Tar Heels knew run plays were coming. They ended 10 straight drives inside the Tar Heels' 30- yard line. Pyne was sacked just once. "We scored on a lot of drives, and it all starts with our O-linemen," Pyne said. "Our line has played and worked so hard. Coach Hiestand gets them in a great po- sition to go out there and succeed." On the other side, Notre Dame's de- fensive line stuffed North Carolina's run game in a locker, holding the Tar Heels' running backs to 27 yards on 14 carries. It also sacked North Carolina quarter- back Drake Maye three times. All told, it's what Freeman and Notre Dame's staff insist they have seen in practices since the spring but was a no-show for the first two weeks. They expected two lines that would be clear strengths. The offensive line will need to do more than wear down a bad North Carolina defensive front to make a con- vincing case it's one now. It lost the line of scrimmage to Marshall two weeks earlier, after all. But this is what a unit that wants to be a strength should do to an overmatched opponent. When the starting point is losing up front to a Sun Belt team, any progress two weeks later ought not to be discarded. "It's what you hope Notre Dame foot- ball is going to be about, that you're go- ing to have an O-line that can run the ball," Freeman said. "And even if the team knows we're going to run the ball … be able to run the ball at will for 4 or 5 yards. That's something that you have to be able to do, especially with our cur- rent roster. "They're jelling. They're doing a good job." How it carries over to matchups with better defensive fronts in upcoming weeks remains to be seen, but pushing around North Carolina was a victory for anyone hoping for signs the offensive line can be the catalyst for extracting the most out of a season that will largely be played with a backup quarterback. Marshall was a reminder that games that look like get-right contests don't always unfold that way and that dominance in any form shouldn't be taken for granted. The potent run game and stable protec- tion didn't just strike a chord with Pyne, who completed 71 percent of his passes behind sound pass protection. It regis- tered with Freeman, who hoped the line — and every other unit — would process two losses as a jolt instead of a time to recoil. "You have to use it as a positive situ- ation, and that's what I challenged the group with," Freeman said. "Somehow, some way, that Ohio State game has to make us better. Same thing with the loss to Marshall." The rushing stat sheet vs. North Car- olina was the line's answer that it took his demand seriously. And an exuber- ant, quarterback was the reward. ✦ Blake Fisher (left) and Notre Dame's offensive line helped Logan Diggs (right) and the Irish run- ning backs total 264 yards rushing. PHOTO BY KAYDEE GAWLIK Line Of Scrimmage Dominance A Snapshot Of Marcus Freeman's Ideals

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