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Offensive line preview: Final answer

Sep 5, 2009, 8:00 AM EDT

A commenter during my preview of Jimmy Clausen and the rest of the Notre Dame quarterbacks took umbrage with my comment, “Notre Dame’s season goes as Jimmy Clausen goes.” His response was this:

I obviously agree that Claussen’s development is essential for Notre
Dame to have a successful season, but I think the season goes as the
offensive line goes. Both the pass blocking and especially run blocking
need to improve for this to really be a great year.

About the only thing the commenter didn’t get right was the spelling of Jimmy’s last name. The offensive line is the key. And the Irish have no choice but to make that their final answer.

To say that Notre Dame’s offensive line the last two seasons was disappointing would be like saying losing all my belongings in a fire was disappointing. The offensive line wasn’t disappointing, it was disastrous. It was truly offensive.

From top to bottom this group struggled. When it wasn’t getting overpowered it was making mental mistakes. If it wasn’t mental mistakes, it was just a whole bunch of guys getting beat and looking mediocre. Four and five star prospects looked lost. Juniors were making freshman mistakes. Even John Sullivan, who entered his senior year as a front-runner for the Rimington Trophy, forgot how to snap out of the shotgun. Much of the offense that thrived in Charlie Weis’ first two seasons was rendered obsolete, simply because the Irish couldn’t run five guys out on the field that could consistently protect the quarterback or create running lanes.

Many Irish fans attributed those problems to one man: former offensive line coach John Latina. Yet Latina had a wonderful reputation everywhere he’d been before stopping in South Bend. Yet there had to be an explanation for why Latina’s troops were playing so woefully. And the common sense explanation that the Irish’s complete lack of veteran leadership in the offensive front, created by attrition and a few subpar recruiting classes from the previous regime, created a perfect storm.

Fair or not, the only way for the sky to clear was to bring in a new leader of the offensive front. And while the offensive line isn’t talking about it publicly, there are a few reasons we should feel confident that the tide is turning. No longer is this a group of young players trying to build experience for the future. The Notre Dame starting offensive line starts four seniors among the five spots. 

We will find out today whether Frank Verducci is a miracle-worker, or merely a coach in charge of reforming a bunch of misfits. And while the Irish offense will only go as far as Jimmy Clausen can lead them, Clausen will be depending on a group of (up-until-now) underperforming linemen to pave the way.

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