Grading Notre Dame at the Bye: Offense

Everett Golson - Notre Dame vs. Rcie
Everett Golson was outstanding in his return to action for Notre Dame on Saturday as he accounted for five different Irish scores. (Photo: Matt Cashore / USA Today Sports)

As Notre Dame enters its first bye weekend of the season, we took a closer look at each position unit on the offensive side of the ball today.  The Irish offense, while off to a solid start, has a lot of room for improvement over the final nine games of the season which is a tantalizing thought for Irish fans considering Notre Dame enters the game averaging more than 30 points a game.

Quarterback

Everett Golson has been about as good as anyone could have hoped for after missing all of last season.  Through three games Golson has thrown 7 touchdowns and run for another 4 while not turning the ball over once.  He’s has also been making plays with his legs to extend plays as the offensive line has struggled to provide the same level of protection last year’s veteran line provided Tommy Rees.  What’s scary, for Notre Dame’s opponents, is that Golson’s stats could be even better right now had it not been for a few misfires and some huge drops from his wide receiving corps.

At the bye week we are grading Golson with an A- only because there have been some plays that he’s left on the field and at times he held onto the ball too long against Purdue.  By the end of the season Golson has the opportunity to turn in one of the better seasons an Irish quarterback has ever had if he keeps this pace.  As is, Golson is already generating a lot of Heisman buzz and will almost certainly find himself in the thick of the race for college football’s most coveted award should he continue to play at this level as the competition gets tougher in October.

Grade: A-

Greg Bryant - Notre Dame v. Rice
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Greg Bryant (1) in action during a game between the Rice Owls and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, IN. (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon Sportswire)

Running Back

Notre Dame’s running backs are a bit tough to grade because the Irish haven’t exactly committed to running the ball outside of the Rice blowout and haven’t committed to a to go back yet as they rotate in three backs almost equally.  Cam McDaniel has the longest run of the group, Tarean Folston has the most carries, and Greg Bryant has the most yards and best yards per carry average. None of them have really gotten a chance to get into a grove and establish themselves to this point though making it though to grade them out.

When there has been room to run, the backs have made some plays.  The problem has been that it’s been tough sledding for the running backs most of the time this year.  Bryant has shown the most flash of the group and looks like he could be the answer as the go to back if he can pick up the little things that McDaniel excels at.  Against Purdue Bryant started to show that ability by getting open when Golson was flushed out of the pocket turning a couple scramble drills into 17 yard gains.

Grade: B

Tight End

The tight end has been an integral part of the Notre Dame passing game for the better part of the last decade.  So far this season, however, the tight end hasn’t been the kind of weapon we’ve grown accustomed to it being.  Golson has missed Ben Koyack down the seem a couple times but at the same time, Koyack hasn’t done much when he’s gotten the ball.  Furthermore, Koyack is responsible for the only turnover Notre Dame has had through three games.  That turnover proved costly too as it allowed Purdue back in the game.

In my post on the 10 things the Irish need to work on during the bye, one of them was rediscovering the tight end in the passing game.  With the weapons Notre Dame has at wide receiver, there is no reason Koyack shouldn’t have plenty of room to do some damage down the seam.

Grade: C

Will Fuller - Notre Dame v. Rice
Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Will Fuller (7) catches a pass for a 75 yard touchdown against Rice Owls safety Julius White (7) at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

Wide Receiver:

Even while missing senior Davaris Daniels through three games, the Irish wide receiving corps has turned in some big plays.  Will Fuller had a 75 yard score against Rice, CJ Prosise a 53 yarder, Amir Carlisle had a two score game against Michigan, and Corey Robinson has shown his trademark hands despite a broken thumb.

Despite all of the positives though, this group has had growing pains.  Prosise has had some big drops including a gift touchdown against Rice.  Fuller’s had a couple drops as well.  Blocking at this position has been the biggest disappointment though.  We’ve grown so used to excellent blocking from Notre Dame wide receivers that it’s sometimes been overlooked.  This year though the blocking just hasn’t been there.

You may have also noticed there’s a name I haven’t mentioned yet too.  It’s Chris Brown.  Brian Kelly sang the junior’s praises all off-season long and into fall camp, but so far Brown has not made his presence felt and at this point it’s fair to assume that his spot on the depth could be in jeopardy as Robinson gets closer and closer to 100%.  If this group starts showing more consistent hands and starts blocking better… LOOK OUT.

Grade: B-

Offensive Line

We all knew it wouldn’t be easy to replace Zack Martin and Chris Watt.  No one though the line would struggle as much as it has either though.  Against Rice the line looked just fine.  Since then, however, the line has sprung some leaks in pass protection and hasn’t been opening up the running lanes it has in the past.   Those struggles were on full display last weekend when Purdue sacked Everett Golson four times – a less mobile quarterback would have been taken down even more.  All of this prompted Brian Kelly to hint that changes could be coming after he and OL Harry Hiestand could sit down and review the unit on last Sunday.

Through three games it’s looking like Steve Elmer might be better suited to stay at guard, but the problem then is who moves to right tackle?  Does Christian Lombard move over?  He started a RT on Notre Dame’s national title run in 2012 and held his own as Notre Dame finished 12-1.  Is sophomore Mike McGlinchey read for a starting role?  The Philly native is a massive specimen, but he also couldn’t beat out Elmer coming out of fall camp.

Regardless of what, if any changes are made, the play of the offensive line has been below what we’ve come to expect out of Hiestand coached lines and right now it is the only thing holding back this offense from being an elite unit.  If Kelly and Hiestand fix the issues and get this line back closer to what we saw in 2012 and 2013, this team could make a playoff run.

Grade: C

What do you think of our grades for the offense through three games?  Let us know in the comments!

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21 Comments

  1. I give Golson a A+ even though he can play better but 3-0 with 11td and 0int I will take.

    The RB I would give a C because they have been average at best. I put some of the blame on BK because this three headed platoon is a trainwreck. During a interview Bryant was asked why he never calls for a fair catch during punts and he replied “because I don’t know when I will get to touch the ball again”. This kid is dripping wet full of talent averaging over five yards a carry and to only have rushed the ball 22 times in three games makes no sense. Bryant with Golson has the potential to be great together.

    The O Line has struggled moving defenders off the line of scrimmage especially the interior. Kicking Lombard out to RT and Elmer inside and Hegarty to center should help this running game but so far they to would get a C.

  2. How can you commit to the run when the coach will not? Golson has been very good and a difference maker. He must stay healthy. TE’s totally unimpressive so far. This must change.

  3. Performance at practice determines playing time in BK’s world.
    I’m not there, so I don’t know who looks better. I suspect all three have impressed BK, thus the three man rotation. I’ve read earlier GB has frustrated BK, with Bryant’s impatience not waiting for blocks to develop.

    I, for one, don’t believe the three-headed rotation at RB has been the problem.
    As has been pointed out already, the OL and receivers not sustaining their blocks have been the critical deterrent to the running game success, not any of the RBs. I suspect bye week will help improve that.
    Lest we forget, the OL and “available” receivers are still young and inexperienced, a developing project in process that will progress and improve.

    I’ll take 3-0 with two 31 point victories, and a “disappointing” 16 point win.
    Thank heavens our prodigal son, a most legitimate Heismann candidate, returned to play QB. Without him, at this point, the blogs would be calling for gathering pitchforks to storm BK’s residence.

    1. Hang-on, Michael. I totally agree Everett has been a worthwhile wait, by far. Easily, By any stretch of the imagination. Or any other apt cliché. But I was so incredibly impressed with Zaire’s performance in the B-G game. True, Everett is to be lauded ad infinitum for his hard work under the productive mentorship of “that QB-guru.” (name escapes me – no, GEORGE WHITFIELD!) And Everett looked as smooth as the other side of the pillow (mixing of clichés!) for the B-G game. But Malik really, really impressed me with his skills. Yes, EG was working with back-ups. And yes, Z-man was working with the #1 team. But Malik really showed surprising command for a Red-Shirt Frosh.

      So I don’t think a lynch-gang of pitchfork-toting goons would be storming BK’s residence. Correction: I don’t think they SHOULD be after BK. Whether they WOULD or not is legitimately questionable.

      Peace – and GO IRISH!

      1. I agree, HURLS. I, in no way, wish to denigrate Malik. I have great faith in what he can do. I was simply justifying my “A” grade for our worthy Heisman candidate- and I’ve read enough bloggers to know the pitchforks are sharpened, initialed with BK etched upon them, and readied to emerge should ND have faltered the first three weeks. Gotta love their passion- their patience for such a young team – not so much!

  4. Let Bryant run. Folston and McDaniel had their opportunities last year and did well, but let’s cut Bryan loose for a few games. The man is a Thoroughbred.

  5. Agree and bryant as the go to RB, especially if the OL continues to struggle. He’s shown the best ability to make something out of nothing. However, I wouldn’t write off Folston so quickly. He’s been put in the most difficult running situations so far. I still like him as a 1B RB to Bryant’s 1A.
    OL has been horrible compared to what we’re used to, but I think “C” is fair given that we’ve played 2 B1G rivals and a minor conference champion while most of CFB is playing Towson and SE Missouri St.
    I’ve been pretty disappointed with the WR drops and blocking. Regarding the drops, it’s easy right now at 3-0 to say, “Who cares? We blew them out!” Well, what are we going to say when it happens with the game on the line? As for the downfield blocking, the OL isn’t the only reason the RB aren’t finding room to run.
    I think I’d give TE a “D+” at this point. Almost no production, a couple key drops that would have extended drives and the only turnover of the season , in the redzone, which led directly to opponent points. Finally, the blocking has been ok, but not good. The RB/OL are getting the most attention, but TE has fallen the farthest from the past couple years.
    Golson’s basically been spectacular, without the drops he’d be throwing for 70% and have at least a couple more TD. He needs to improve at the read-option aspect of the position. That will help take some pressure off both the OL and RB.

  6. I totally agre with your assessment of the offensive line, I attended the Notre Dame Purdue game it was very obvious that Purdue’s defensive line owned the trenches in the first half, I also though Everett Golson was confused at times, I was real disappointed with the lack of blitzing on the part of ND, there tackling at times was very subpar. But all in all I think we learned a lot in this game and will be a better team for it.

  7. Very fair analysis. I think the O Line might only warrant a C- (but now I am quibbling). I also agree with several posters that the running backs can’t be to blame for the poor running attack: if a team can’t get rushing yards with Bryant and TF, then a team can’t get rushing yards. That simply means our O Line must improve. That said, I think it can/will improve.

  8. Excellent analysis and insight, Frank
    – especially with your observation the receivers needing to improve on their downfield blocking.
    Yes, they’ve dropped a few, but they’ve also made some sensational key grabs,
    especially Fuller and Robinson.

    From what I’ve seen of some of the top QBs rated ahead of EG in the pre-season (Stanford’s Hogan, FSU and Winston, and Petty at Baylor et.al.), I’d give EG a solid “A”, especially with the consistent pressure he’s faced against all three opponents so far, and his exceptional ability to not only avoid the pass rush, but to turn the breakdowns into positives with both his arm and legs. Very few misfires, and the dropped passes aren’t on him.

    I’m in agreement with the rest of your grades, except maybe the OL to C-.
    But I’m confident with the abundance of talent, depth, and youth, the OL will be developed under the most capable leadership of Harry H. Now, whether it can happen by Stanford or FSU becomes the key question.
    The bye week will be telling. How they do against a physical Syracuse D’ will be an early indicator.

  9. I’ll say the OL in is at a “D. There is absolutely no running game, Golson already has been sacked a couple times and has had to run for his life multiple times by defenses that won’t even be in the top 50 in America.

    I’m a firm believer that football games almost always will be won at the LOS. Until ND can’t impose its will on defenses, ND is going to struggle to make it to the playoff.

  10. I’m in agreement with everything except for Wide Receivers. I feel that you have graded them too low. There are going to be drops for sure, but think about some of the other great plays they have made. We haven’t even utilized Robinson yet. I think only 3 fades/jump balls have been thrown to him in the endzone when we are in the redzone. One touchdown and two pass interference penalties. That is going to be unstoppable with his size and hands. In my opinion, Fuller is our best overall receiver…crisp routes, great hands, can take a hit, and is very quick AND fast! This kid is already better than TJ Jones because he has better speed. And Daniels isn’t even back yet. This grade should be at least a B+ if not higher.

    And my last comment is that Bryant is clearly the #1. This rotation of backs drives me crazy sometimes. I know Kelly commits to keeping everyone happy because they all have worked hard, but Bryant is the total package. He should be featured with the other two getting less carries.

    1. I disagree with the giving the receivers a B+, to many drops that could have led to a big play. I would give the receivers a C+.

      1. I might agree with you if the drops would have been difference makers in the game. We blew out Rice, we blew out Michigan, and I don’t recall a drop against Purdue. So did the drops really matter in these games? Otherwise they have been pretty darn good.

      2. This group of WRs should be somewhere in the A- to A+ range but unfortunately Davaris Daniels and Chris Brown have let this group down for different reasons. If we get DD back and CB shows up this group of WRs will be as good as any. Still a solid B for this group IMO.

    2. Not sure Daniels is coming back…. at least not this year….. so we better hope the WRs improve and show some consistency. Fuller has been a nice surprise. The talent is definitely there for the other WRs… just need to execute.

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