Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 9, 2017

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

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8 OCT. 9, 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T here was an elementary preseason analysis of the 2017 Notre Dame team when it came to the line of scrimmage: the veteran-laden of- fensive line would be the team's strength, and the rebuilding defen- sive line would be the top concern. Following the 20-19 loss to Geor- gia — the prohibitive favorite now to win the SEC East and vie for a College Football Playoff spot — there was a dramatic role reversal. Fair or unfair, the offensive line re- ceived the brunt of blame during a 55-yard rushing performance against the Bulldogs, including a sack of ju- nior quarterback Brandon Wimbush on the final possession that resulted in a lost fumble. Meanwhile, the de- fensive line earned plaudits for hold- ing its own against one of the elite running corps in the country. Expectations often work that way. There is a better chance to be a "pleasant surprise" when there is less hype in that area, whereas building something up too much generally can result in a letdown. However, during the back-to-back road outings at Boston College and Michigan State — two teams that have been identified by their physi- cality over the years and have been past nemeses for the Fighting Irish — Notre Dame truly laid it on the line along the fronts while dominat- ing the action. As September drew to a close, head coach Brian Kelly's review of both lines provided encouragement head- ing into the back half of the schedule that will be more challenging, espe- cially after the Oct. 14 bye. In back-to-back home games, Notre Dame will seek to beat a ranked USC team for the first time since 1995, while the meeting against North Carolina State will feature one of the nation's most dominant defensive lines, one that led an upset at Florida State Sept. 23. DEFENSIVE LINE PROGRESS Coaches generally prefer to avoid critiques after only one-third of the season has been played, but when asked the week of the Miami (Ohio) game how he would grade the Fight- ing Irish defensive line after four games, Kelly replied that it would be an A-minus. "The minus is for probably losing a little bit of focus here and there at times, but their technique, their ability to use their hands, play with a much better discipline in terms of how they fit in our front seven is probably an A-plus," Kelly ex- plained. Under new defensive coordina- tor Mike Elko's scheme, the line re- corded five sacks through four games after logging only three during the 12-game season in 2016. Sacks alone, however, are far from the primary indicator of effective- ness. Against Michigan State, pass pressure forced a fumble by scram- bling quarterback Brian Lewerke that resulted in a 24-yard Irish touch- down drive. It wasn't recorded as a sack, but it was even better because the pressure negatively affected the quarterback. There also is an ideal symbiosis/ chemistry along the line. Veterans such as seniors Jay Hayes, Andrew Trumbetti and Jonathan Bonner and junior Jerry Tillery easily are playing the best in their careers, under line coach Mike Elston, who instructed the linebackers the past two years before returning to the position. Complementing the upgrade from UNDER THE DOME FALLING IN LINE The defensive front is progressing well, while the offense begins to find its stride Sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara provided a boost to the Irish defensive line in the first four games, contributing 1.5 sacks among 2.5 tackles for loss. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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