Notebook: Scrutiny out of line for Notre Dame's offensive front?

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The individual pieces, the tutelage of Harry Hiestand, the recruiting pedigree all suggest that Notre Dame’s offensive line might have been able to skip the work-in-progress phase.

Just this week, ESPN analyst Todd McShay projected left tackle Mike McGlinchey and left guard Quenton Nelson, both underclassmen by NFL Draft standards, as the No. 24 and 25 draftable prospects, respectively, for next spring. Irish junior QB DeShone Kizer also made the top 32 list, one spot ahead of McGlinchey.

Big picture, Notre Dame (2-3) heads to soggy Raleigh, N.C., for a Saturday matchup with favored North Carolina State (3-1) ahead of Ara Parseghian’s 1968 squad’s school-record pace for points per game by roughly two points (39.8 to 37.6).

And with an average of 495.4 yards per game, the Irish trail the 1970 Parseghian-coached team by a mere 15 yards for that school record. But there are mortal elements in the offensive snapshot as well.

The rushing yards-per-carry average so far is a modest 4.4, good for 66th nationally but down from a modern school record of 5.63 last season. And the Irish rank 57th nationally in sacks allowed, though that’s actually one spot higher than ND finished the 2015 season.

“There are definitely inconsistencies,” Kelly said Thursday after practice. “I wouldn’t throw it (all) on the offensive line. I would throw it on perimeter blocking, decision-making, coaching. There are a lot of factors there.

“And the right side is evolving, so two-thirds are still coming together. So they’re getting better. Those are two really good players on the left side. I think everybody knows that, but one guy or two guys don’t make an offensive line.”

The good news is all five starters are eligible to return in 2017. In fact, the only players on the entire offense with expiring eligibility are third-string center Mark Harrell and former walk-on running back Josh Anderson.

And Wednesday McGlinchey volunteered he plans to return to ND in 2017 for his final season of eligibility.

When wide receiver Will Fuller made a similar declaration last fall, Kelly acted more taken aback than elated. Sure enough, Fuller ended up declaring for the draft as a junior and was selected in the first round by the Houston Texans.

“Will’s a different cat than Mike McGlinchey. … His ascent was really quick,” Kelly said. “Mike’s got his life planned out pretty carefully, so it doesn’t surprise me. He’s made that pretty clear to me, from day one, what his plans were in terms of how he wanted to precede here.

“I would say he’s been consistent in his approach to being here and what his plan has been.”

Where’s Daelin?

A Kelly Era-record 13 freshmen, 10 on defense, have seen the field so far this season for the Irish. But one of the quieter contributors in that group has been the highest-rated prospect in the class, five-star defensive end Daelin Hayes.

Through five games, the 6-foot-4, 250-pound Ann Arbor (Mich.) Skyline High product and early enrollee delivered a total of four tackles, working in a backup role at rush end. He is purported to have the best pass-rush tools on the Irish roster, but his opportunities and production in that area have been limited.

“He’s got a really good skill set, but he’s rusty,” Kelly said of Hayes, whose actual high school experience was limited by injuries and cross-country moves brought on by a custody battle.

“We’re getting the rust off him. Re-routing is new to him, wrong-arming. These are the things that we’re spending time on. He’s going to be a really good football player, but he’s behind and we’re going to get him caught up quickly.

“He’ll continue to play for us and we’ll get through some of those, but he and (junior Andrew) Trumbetti are going to be sharing time.”

Scout’s honor

Freshman cornerback Troy Pride Jr., so impressed Kelly in scout-team duty, the head coach insisted he be activated from a redshirt trajectory last Saturday against Syracuse. He ended up playing 80 snaps in ND’s 50-33 squashing of Syracuse.

Another player on scout team who has grabbed Kelly’s attention is freshman offensive lineman Liam Eichenberg.

“He’s a stud,” Kelly said of the 6-6, 280-pounder from Cleveland. “We’re just not going to play him this year. He’s a special player.”

“Future left tackle?” Kelly was asked.

“Whatever he tells me” the coach said. “I just say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and ‘thank you for being here.’ He’s a pretty good player.”

Squibs

Kelly said he expects right offensive guard Colin McGovern (high ankle sprain) to start Saturday, but expects backup Hunter Bivin to rotate in some.

• Senior running back Tarean Folston is listed as probable for N.C. State after missing the Syracuse game last Saturday with an ankle injury.

• Since elevating defensive analyst Greg Hudson to defensive coordinator on Sept. 25, Kelly has maintained Hudson has a shot to make it a permanent gig, though nothing is guaranteed.

Thursday Kelly was pressed as to whether he had started the process of measuring interest of possible candidates outside the current staff for a long-term replacement for fired defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder.

“I’m not on the phone taking the temperature of other defensive coordinators and whether they want to be the defensive coordinator here,” Kelly said. “I’m not doing that right now, no.”

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand (left) and left tackle Mike McGlinchey (68) are two reasons for optimism that Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly carries for an improved Irish offensive line. (Tribune File Photo/GREG SWIERCZ)