After an early-season reshuffling, Notre Dame’s offensive line will get its biggest test of the year on Saturday. The starting five in charge of protecting Everett Golson will have to go into hostile territory and take on Florida State’s star-studded defensive line.
The offensive line play has been up and down this season. With four starters moving positions — Nick Martin and Matt Hegarty switching spots between left guard and center, and Christian Lombard taking over at right tackle while Steve Elmer shifts inside to guard — there is no better time for Harry Hiestand’s offensive line to play their best football than in Tallahassee.
After some rough moments, there’s been progress made. And while there’s still a healthy dose of skepticism surrounding this group, Brian Kelly took some time this weekend to dispel that notion.
“It seems to be the topic of conversation. I really don’t know where that’s coming from,” Kelly said. “I mean, we were down, we had to throw quite a bit. There’s going to be some pressure. You know, they didn’t grade out that bad. We missed a couple of protections here and there, but in my five years here, it seems like the chatter out there is that this is not a very good offensive line. They’re doing some pretty good things, and we’re getting better.”
That’s not exactly a ringing endorsement, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. Yet a week after Ronnie Stanley was called for multiple holds and the interior struggled with some pressure schemes by a defense giving up over 42 points a game, getting right before facing a talented Seminoles front anchored by Eddie Goldman and Mario Edwards is key.
Make no mistake, this isn’t the same Seminoles defensive front that was dominant during their national championship run. Timmy Jernigan is gone, a disruptive force on the inside who finished third in tackles for last year’s title team. But that doesn’t mean the Seminoles are slouches up front, with blue-chip recruits lining up all across the front seven.
In what is likely to be a very hostile environment, cleaning up any procedural issues will be vital. There can be no early snap with multiple players still shifting, like there was on Saturday. And any communication issues relaying protections won’t get any easier with 82,000 fans screaming.
You can’t blame Kelly for saying all the right things, especially when it does take some time to learn new positions. And with the running game kick-started against North Carolina behind some sold work by Tarean Folston, Saturday night is a perfect opportunity to show some progress.
“There are things that we’ve got to get better at, a couple of protection misses that didn’t get communicated across the board,” Kelly conceded. “But by and large, we’re getting better each week.”