Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 9, 2017

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

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Page 8 of 55 OCT. 9, 2017 9 UNDER THE DOME the upperclassmen, sophomores Daelin Hayes and Julian Okwara have provided quick-twitch speed off the edge, and even freshmen Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish, along with sophomore Khalid Ka- reem, have given quality snaps off the bench to provide fresher legs for the veterans for the short, and hope- fully long, term as well. "We're getting some pretty good edge pressure from our front four," Kelly said. "We're getting batted balls, and we're getting the kind of integrity that a front four needs rela- tive to the run fits." While there was no place to go but up after last season's dismal 4-8 finish, Kelly said the improvement wasn't going to be a given. There also had to be buy-in and trust. "As a group, as coaches, myself, we all underachieved," Kelly said of 2016. "I don't know if we really painted the right picture. "Coming into this season, we had maybe higher expectations than ev- erybody else. And then I think that through our preparation, we've been able to really see that this group could continue to grow and be bet- ter each and every weekend. … It's been a little bit of all of that coming together." OFFENSIVE LINE BEGINS TO JELL Following the disappointment from the Georgia game, the offensive line — ranked No. 3 in the country by Lindy's this preseason behind Ala- bama and Oklahoma — regrouped and played with a fierce edge against the Eagles and Spartans. The effort has begun with senior left guard Quenton Nelson, who in many circles is projected as the No. 1 guard in next year's NFL Draft. "Show me one that's better, and we'll have a good argument," Kelly said. While the former five-star recruit always has possessed the physical traits to excel, Kelly said where the senior captain Nelson has improved the most is shedding his quiet de- meanor and, in his New Jersey style, no longer holding back at telling it like it is. "Truth is his number one strength," Kelly said. "He's very truthful — and you can take that any way you want. He really worked hard on how he delivers that truth. It's been much more impactful across the board. He's a very effective leader because of that. "One of the reasons he came back [instead of turning pro last spring] was that he wanted to work on those skills as well. Not only did he want to be a better and more complete football player, but he wanted to be a better leader, too, and he's worked really hard on that." Combining with fellow top pro prospect Mike McGlinchey on the left side should reap results the next two months. "Stay away from those two," Kelly said. "Each and every week they have a mindset of wanting to domi- nate, and that's a pretty good thing." Meanwhile, senior center Sam Mustipher is in peak form, high- lighted by a stellar performance at Michigan State. "We do a highlight video of our offensive linemen, and he was not in the clips last week [against Boston College]," Kelly said. "Not that he didn't play great, because he played pretty good, but there were some hel- lacious hits from some other players, and he took that personal. "He's all over this week's highlight clips [from the Michigan State game], and that's the kind of pride he has in his performance. … His ability to pull and his ability to snap the ball effectively, he's made great strides in that area. He takes great pride in it." Senior right guard Alex Bars was also at his best against Michigan State, and his work and body trans- formation under the new condition- ing staff led by Matt Balis has been especially conspicuous. "Alex Bars stays on his feet and plays with great balance and lever- age," Kelly said of the Nashville na- tive. "That wasn't necessarily the case last year." The primary question mark enter- ing the season was the right tackle position, where sophomore Tommy Kraemer is the starter and freshman Robert Hainsey comes in as a com- plementary figure. Through four games, Kraemer took 165 snaps and Hainsey 138, and Kelly said the rotation has found a positive rhythm that allows both to highlight their strengths without get- ting overwhelmed by volume. "That tandem is really now al- most seamless in terms of how they're working together," Kelly said. "Tommy is extremely physical, and that showed itself on film. He's throwing guys around, literally. "Hainsey is a beautiful pass setter. He's about as flawless as a pass set- ter as there is in college football at his age. … That's showing itself in prac- tice, and it's translating into games." Come October and November, the translation will need to be even more fluent on both sides of the line if Notre Dame is to return to the Col- lege Football Playoff conversation. ✦ After a subpar 55-yard rushing effort versus Georgia Sept. 9, the offensive line dominated while help- ing the Irish rack up 697 yards on the ground versus Boston College and Michigan State the next two weeks. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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