There is no way to evaluate the Notre Dame offensive line rebuild at this point and conclude anything other than it has been bungled and a failure. Through the first two games against weak opponents, the offensive line has generated very little push in the running game. Outside of a 43-yard touchdown run while Tyler Buchner was in the game at quarterback against Toledo, star running back Kyren Williams has rushed the ball 34 times for a total of 77 yards and a 2.3 yards per carry average. Even when the 43-yard run is included, Williams is only averaging a paltry 3.4 yards per carry. Williams often has nowhere to run, gets met in the backfield, or tries to stretch a run designed to go between the tackles out wide to no success.
The offensive line has been equally if not more inept in pass protection. Amongst the 20 tackles for loss allowed during the first two games are ten sacks. The ten TFL allowed average earn Notre Dame a ranking of 126 out of 130 college football teams ranked. The five sacks allowed per game average is also ranked at 126 out of 130. Notre Dame QB Jack Coan has been repeatedly hurried and hit, and this is happening against weak competition. Something is clearly wrong, and changes need to be made. These are the changes prescribed to build an offensive line that will best serve the program for this season and into the future.
LT: Jarrett Patterson in the near-term.
Blake Fisher when he returns. While I appreciate the whole “we’re going to play Jarrett Patterson at center because it’s better for him” line, that whole philosophy needs to be thrown out at this point. Patterson is Notre Dame’s best, most talented healthy offensive lineman, and the Notre Dame quarterbacks desperately need someone to protect their blindside. Head Coach Brian Kelly has indicated a reluctance to move Patterson to left tackle. Still, he must reconsider for the sake of the health of his quarterbacks and the functionality of his offense. Fisher is the long-term solution, but until he returns, Patterson is capable of handling the responsibilities.
LG: Rocco Spindler
Rocco Spindler is one of the most powerful and elite athletes we have on our OL roster. His recruiting ratings were near 5 stars, and reports from spring ball through fall validate them. DT Kurt Hinish described Spindler (along with Fisher) as being “damn good” and “the best freshmen offensive linemen I’ve ever seen or played against.” While it is not ideal to be playing freshmen on the offensive line, Spindler is clearly the LG of the future and should be playing now.
C: Zeke Correll
Zeke Correll is not a guard. Correll is a center, and he could be a very good one. It is what his body type lends itself to and the position he was recruited for and for which he has been training since he arrived in South Bend. Correll played center last year when Patterson was injured and did well. Moving him to guard this year is only hurting his development. He is the center of the future at Notre Dame, and the future is now.
RG: Cain Madden in the near term. Undecided in the longer-term.
This year, Cain Madden simply has not lived up to his All-American status as the LG for Notre Dame. He has missed assignments and has not provided the push or protection that was expected. That said, he is the best option in the near-term and should remain at least until the injured offensive linemen return.
RT: Josh Lugg in the near term. Undecided in the longer-term.
The fifth-year tackle has not performed up to the level the Irish coaching staff and fanbase had hoped. While somewhat adequate in pass protection, Lugg has provided very little push for the run game and has gotten handled by more powerful defensive ends. But, as with Madden, Lugg is the best option for RT, at least until the injured offensive linemen return.
Upon Fisher’s and Carmody’s returns, Patterson should be moved to the right side of the line to replace either Cain Madden or Josh Lugg. Until that time, both Madden and Lugg will have the opportunity to prove themselves. However, if it is Madden who Patterson replaces and it is determined that Carmody might be the right tackle of the future and can do it better than Lugg this year, then Carmody should get the nod as well.
While these changes may not result in an offensive line that is of the highest quality this season, it couldn’t be much worse than what has been witnessed thus far. These changes are about more than just fixing the line of today. They concern the construction of the offensive line of the future. The Fisher-Spindler-Correll left side of the line should remain intact for the next three seasons. Fisher and Spindler are amongst the most elite and athletic offensive line talents Notre Dame has recruited. Zeke Correll has the ability to become one of the better centers in the nation.
Should Carmody also join the line on the right side, then four of the five offensive linemen would remain together for three seasons. At a minimum, the left-side trio would remain the same for three seasons, and the entire line would remain intact for two seasons. That level of talent and time together is the recipe for constructing the next great Notre Dame offensive line. It is the recipe that would result in the type of offensive line that could help lead this team to a National Championship.
However, under the current plan laid out by the Notre Dame coaching staff, Notre Dame would have different individuals playing at LG, C, RG, and RT next year than are playing in those spots this year while the LT would have only played a half of a season. That is roughly equivalent to the situation being dealt with by Notre Dame as it entered this season. With a more difficult schedule next year that includes Clemson as well as having to go into Horseshoe Stadium to face the Ohio State Buckeyes in the very first game, it might behoove the Notre Dame coaching staff to take a good, long look in the mirror and ask themselves, “Do we really want to do this all over again next year?”