Arguably the country’s best offensive line will need to find a new fulcrum. Notre Dame junior center Jarrett Patterson will need season-ending surgery on his left foot, per multiple Monday reports.
Irish Illustrated’s Tim Prister first reported the injury, which apparently occurred during the 45-31 Irish victory at Boston College on Saturday, though Patterson did not leave the game early. Patterson should be 100 percent recovered by the 2021 season, though his spring work may be limited.
Patterson has started every game the last two seasons, the youngest member of an offensive line that returned all five starters in 2020 and has dominated the line of scrimmage of late after taking a week or two to rekindle its chemistry at the season’s outset. Through eight games, Notre Dame is averaging 241.3 rushing yards per game, sacks adjusted, on pace to be the second-highest average since the Lou Holtz era, trailing only 2017. That sacks adjusted clarifier is hardly needed, though, given the offensive line has given up only 13 sacks for 58 yards this season.
A year ago, Patterson was not only a first-time starter, but also new to the center position. At times it showed, despite an overall strong season.
“He’s much more of a physical player this year than he was last year,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said in early November. “He’s stronger, he’s put on weight. He’s so much more confident in the position in which he plays now. The second year at the position has allowed him to do a lot more calling out fronts and establishing calls. There’s a level of confidence and he’s built a physicality to him over the year here.”
Without Patterson for the remaining three scheduled games — beginning at North Carolina on Black Friday (3:30 ET; ABC) — and up to six more total, the Irish will spend this idle week working with sophomore Zeke Correll and senior Colin Grunhard as the most likely replacements. A former four-star recruit, Correll is the more highly-touted of the two, but he has not seen competitive action. A former walk-on, Grunhard has played in 14 games across the last three seasons, including a few moments when games were still in some doubt.
Senior offensive line utilityman Josh Lugg has also worked at center in spring practices in the past, an attempt to shore up depth, but that obviously did not resume this past spring due to the pandemic canceling all but one spring practice. He has the most experience of these potential Patterson proxies, having started five games last season at right tackle after Robert Hainsey suffered a season-ending ankle injury.
No matter who steps in against the Tar Heels, not much needs to change pre-snap, even if Patterson had shown a bit more confidence this season.
“I’ve taken on a little bit more this year, especially communicating up front,” he said the first week of November. “… [Fifth-year quarterback Ian Book] still has a lot of charge of that, and [offensive coordinator Tommy Rees] prefers it like that because he can see the secondary, the safety rotation.”
In the most unfortunate of ways, Patterson’s injury evokes memories of 2018. Then fifth-year left guard Alex Bars was finally getting a chance to lead both on and off the field — backing up Quenton Nelson had kept Bars in the utility-knife role throughout his career, understandably so — and he was playing up to the occasion. In the fifth game, though, Bars tore his ACL and MCL. Notre Dame still got through the regular season unbeaten, but losing Bars significantly lowered its ceiling.