SOUTH BEND - Veteran Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly was making jokes during the press conference following his team's 49-16 romp over Temple Saturday in the “new” Notre Dame Stadium, which has provided a vastly different atmosphere compared to last season.
A year ago, the joke was on the Irish Nation, as the Fighting Irish stumbled and bumbled their way through a series of disappointing losses, eventually finishing with twice as many defeats (eight) as wins (four). There was no shortage of blame to be passed around for the struggles, and that included the heralded offensive line, which underperformed in a myriad of ways. However, that doesn't appear to be possible in 2017.
“That offensive line is pretty special,” Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush said following the win. “I don't know how many offensive lines there has been like this one at this university. I know there has been some great ones and some great guys, but this unit is really special.”
Just imagine if Notre Dame actually has to utilize the NFL-bound left side of the line in guard Quenton Nelson and tackle Mike McGlinchey.
“I told McGlinchey and Quenton,” Kelly said following the victory with a smile, “thank God for the right side. If you look at how everything was run, it was the right side.”
Notre Dame had an historic offensive outing, as it accumulated 606 yards of total offense and over 400 yards rushing, much of which came behind the blocks of first-year players Tommy Kraemer and Robert Hainsey at tackle and veteran Alex Bars at guard, each on the right side.
The Irish had three players in running backs Josh Adams (161 yards) and Dexter Williams (124 yards), as well as Wimbush (106 yards), gain 100-plus yards, and Wimbush explained that the line made it appear relatively easy.
“You don't even have to run to the left side behind 'Big Q' and Mike,” Wimbush said. “You have Hainsey and Tommy and Bars, and obviously (starting center Sam Mustipher) controlling the right side. They have all done a great job.”
Kelly said not getting behind Nelson and McGlinchey was not part of the game plan going into Saturday, but it turned out OK.
“We expected to go left the whole time,” Kelly laughed, “and we didn't care if anybody knew about it.”
The line – the entire group - is not only talented, but it is also versatile. The big guys up front kept Wimbush relatively clean (just a pair of sacks allowed); as they were good in both pass and run blocking.
On the first play from scrimmage, Wimbush had the time to move the offense with a 33-yard pass to wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, which was followed by a 37-yard breakout scoring run by Josh Adams through holes cleared by the offensive line.
“I love the fact,” Kelly said, “that when we needed to run the ball, we could go behind Bars and Kraemer and Hainsey, and not just have to rely on Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey. You know, when you step back, that's pretty good; that you've got the confidence that you can go on either side of the ball.”
No one is going to unseat the older linemen for playing time, but in terms of Kraemer and Hainsey, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand had the young players rotating to see how each performed.
During the game, Kelly continued to check with Hiestand to see just how balanced the number of snaps were between the two.
“I think that we'll leave that open-ended in terms of whether we'll have two guys there or not,” Kelly explained of the rotation. “I really liked the fact that both of them competed and did some good things.”
Hainsey had a pair of procedure penalties called on him, but Kelly said those weren't enough to negate the positives that he also showed.
“Those are the only two penalties we had on offense,” Kelly said, “(but) he competed his butt off. And Tommy did a pretty good job, as well.
“I kind of like playing both of them right now, but we'll see how that goes. I don't want to be married to one concept there. I think we'll let that kind of play itself out and see where it goes.”
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