Don’t Tell Brian Kelly the Notre Dame Offensive Line Needs to Improve

Brian Kelly talked to the media yesterday after the first day of spring football for 2020 about a variety of topics, but one of the few times an otherwise jovial Kelly got a little fired up was when he was asked about the Notre Dame offensive line needing to improve.  Kelly defended the unit’s 2019 performance and

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘better offensive line play.’ Compared to what?” Kelly fired back when asked if the new offensive coaching staff could lead to improved play from the offensive line.

Then Kelly defended his unit’s performance from a year ago. “I don’t know that we were that bad last year.  We scored a lot of points.  There seems to be this narrative out there that we weren’t good at running the football.  We were a pretty good offense last year.”

Kelly was visibly annoyed at the notion that Notre Dame had trouble running the football last year.  “We keep parsing last year,” he said. “Our job is to win football games. We’re going to continue to work on that focus of everybody needs to improve in every facet. It’s not just the offensive line. It’s going to be tight end play, running backs, quarterbacks.”

Instead of focusing on the offensive line, Kelly directed his attention to the entire offense – players and coaches – himself included.  “There is this kind of pervasive feeling that the offensive line has to get better. I got to get better. The wide receivers have got to get better. Everybody has to get better across the board.”

Obviously, Kelly wants to move on from 2019.  “So I think we can get off that train of the offensive line has to get better. Everybody has to get better.”

The problem for Kelly is that he can’t change the past and can’t go back in time and change the results for 2019.  Notre Dame did struggle to run the football when they needed to.  In Notre Dame’s two losses to Georgia and Michigan, they ran for 47 and 46, respectively.  In the close call to Virginia Tech, they only totaled 106 yards.  They didn’t have a single rush longer than 13 yards in any of those three contests.

So there isn’t just a “narrative” that Notre Dame wasn’t good at running the football in 2019.  The stats tell us that they weren’t very good at running the football against good defenses.  Any offense can wrack up yards against New Mexico and Bowling Green.

Teams that are good at running the football don’t need to manufacture rushing yards with jet sweeps and end arounds.  They use them to supplement strong running games.

With the talent Notre Dame has coming back in 2020 along the offensive line, there is no reason they shouldn’t improve running the football – even with some questions at running back.  All five starting linemen from a year ago return, although Aaron Banks will miss the spring recovering from a foot fracture.  The good news on the injury front is that Robert Hainsey and Tommy Kraemer will both be able to participate in spring ball after ending the 2019 season on the injured list.

If there is a narrative that is floating around right now regarding the offensive line, it’s for the reason behind their struggles.  There’s a notion that the struggles can be, at least in part, attributed to the lack of chemistry on the coaching staff that led to Chip Long‘s dismissal at the end of the regular season.  With Lance Taylor now tasked with being the running game coordinator and Tommy Rees promoted to offensive coordinator, there is hope that the improved chemistry with the staff will translate to better results.

Let’s not forget, though, that Notre Dame’s offense was pretty damn good running the ball in 2017 in Chip Long’s first year at Notre Dame.  So removing him from the equation isn’t going to improve Notre Dame’s run game overnight – even if his relationship with the rest of the staff did deteriorate over time.

One certain thing, however, is that Notre Dame has to be able to run the ball better in big games in 2020 if they want to get back to the College Football Playoffs.  Wisconsin and Clemson specifically will be huge tests for the Irish rushing attack. Whether Brian Kelly wants to acknowledge it publically or not, if Notre Dame doesn’t improve on the rushing attacks we saw against Michigan and Georgia last fall, those two games could end with similar results.

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  1. I thought Kelly actually analyzed the game film. Apparently not, ’cause if he did, he would have noticed how little time Book had to find his ONE target that he ONLY looked for.

    Sure we scored lots of points coach, but not when it counted. Watching the games, I came to the conclusion this O-Line was prepared to EITHER pass block or provide holes to run through or not BOTH on any given game So, if the gameplan was to run that day, they prepped all week to support that effort only. Vice versa re the passing gameplan.

    Maybe during his next 10 year renewal, he’ll try to teach both OL play for the same game?

  2. Nd is better in fact any team that can run the football especially between the tackles will win football games

  3. If theOL talent is there, and it appears to be, then conditioning, technique, and a better coordinated offense scheme will excel the ND O’ to among the elite.
    Will Book, a top 25 QB last season, belong among the top 10? I can see it.Will ND’s pass D’ match the expectations of the front 7? I’d not be surprised.
    Having the statistically second best OL re: pass protection returning is already elite, with hopefully Banks return, having six key OL contributors back.
    But I agree with Frank that the three games ND’s rushing attack was underwhelming resulted in two losses and a near loss vs. VT.
    Hope springs eternal each Spring. I don’t remember such quality depth among the OL and DL. Onward to victory!

      1. “Just the facts, M’am”! Joe Friday, Dragnet.
        According to annual recruiting rankings, the talent is evident.
        I said the talent and depth is there. The results have not been what the rankings suggested they would be. The co-ordination of scheme, especially rushing vs. the better teams, was not as evident.
        I’m going to put that on OC Long who’s gone. Quinn’s signing outcomes suggest he’s an excellent recruiter. I’ll be watching to see how his blocking schemes complement the new coordinators’ game plan.
        I’m hopeful, but it’s time for the OL to put up or I’ll have to shut up about my optimism.


    1. hey Smokey, what are you Robbing…or did I mean hey Rob what are you Smoking?

      I think their upper brain is too muscular.

      How many times have we seen our OL double block a lumbering DL-man while allowing a speedy
      Safety unrestricted access to our QB?

      But then again, without that we’d never get to see Book do the one and only thing he does best…scramble.

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