Notre Dame LT Mike McGlinchey strives to avoid a Georgia sequel
The scene opened on Mike McGlinchey — a hulking 6-foot-8, 315-pound mountain in a white jersey and gold pants — squinting in the sunlight, fist-bumping coaches and teammates on the sideline moments before kickoff against Boston College.
In ESPN’s broadcast of last Saturday’s game, sideline reporter Todd McShay had just wrapped up a monologue about reputed Boston College sack-master Harold Landry, who led the nation with 16.5 sacks and seven forced fumbles in 2016.
Naturally, the camera moved to McGlinchey.
“Mike McGlinchey gave up that sack at the end of last week, and you know he’s going to be motivated coming out and playing against one of the best pass rushers in college football,” color commentator Brian Griese said. “It’s going to be a great matchup to watch all day.”
Added play-by-play man Steve Levy: “McGlinchey said he went home after the game with his dad and his uncle and watched the play a hundred times, and said he was only slightly exaggerating. I don’t know why you would do that to yourself.”
Griese: “Well, Brian Kelly, when we talked to him, he said Mike came up to him and said, ‘Hey, I want to come out and make a statement that I have to play better in that moment.’ Brian Kelly says, ‘You don’t need to do that.’ But he wanted to do that. I thought it was a great sign for a senior two-time captain wanting to take ownership and accountability on this new-look Irish team.”
Levy: “Total leadership expressed by McGlinchey.”
Total accountability, too.
Cut to a week earlier, in the immediate wake of Notre Dame’s crushing 20-19 home loss to No. 15 Georgia. Trailing by one with 30 seconds left, ND’s final drive was cut short by Bulldog outside linebacker Davin Bellamy, who beat McGlinchey clean off the edge and stripped Irish quarterback Brandon Wimbush.
After any Notre Dame game — and especially losses — the team’s top performers are typically chosen to meet the media.
Never the goat.
But in walked McGlinchey.
In a small media room off of the north tunnel, the graduate student left tackle stood against a wall, wearing a white ND hat and a blue jacket, flanked by a semicircle of cameras and recorders. He chose to be there.
He chose to speak.
“It came down to execution, and I blew it on that last play,” McGlinchey said. “I got beat and caused the fumble. No excuses for that. There’s nothing I can say about it other than I blew it.”
So, what did he say to Wimbush after the game?
“I told him I’m sorry,” McGlinchey said. “I didn’t do my job at the end of the game, and that’s not on Brandon Wimbush. He had a hell of a game. It’s a tough, tough, tough atmosphere to play in. He had a great game for the most part all day, and I told him I’m sorry because I blew it on the last play.”
And how did Wimbush respond?
“Obviously he’s a good teammate and he said, ‘No it wasn’t (your fault),’ “ McGlinchey said, “but anybody who watches football knows that it was.”
Now, cut to Wednesday.
A few days earlier, in front of 15 family members, on the same field where his cousin — Atlanta Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan — once excelled, McGlinchey and the Irish offensive line paved the way for 515 rushing yards in a 49-20 win over Boston College, which finished seventh nationally in rushing defense the season before.
Two Irish players — running back Josh Adams (229 yards) and Wimbush (207 yards and four scores) — rushed for more than 200 yards in the same game for the first time in school history. Notre Dame also averaged 10.1 yards per carry, breaking a modern program record.
Wimbush was not sacked in the game, and Landry was credited with one measly tackle and zero hurries.
“I really can’t take a whole lot of credit for (negating Landry),” McGlinchey said on Wednesday. “I saw him in the first and second downs, majority run game. I had a couple pass pro snaps on him, but it wasn’t an obvious pass. You’ve got to give all the credit in the world to (right tackles) Tommy Kraemer and Rob Hainsey.”
If there’s blame to take, Notre Dame’s two-time captain will take it.
As for credit? Not so much.
The goal, of course, is for McGlinchey to deflect credit again next Wednesday. On Saturday night, Notre Dame’s offense — which ranks fifth nationally in rushing, averaging 330.7 rushing yards per game — meets a Michigan State defense that held Mid-American Conference opponents Bowling Green and Western Michigan to 91.5 rushing yards per game.
A year ago, in Michigan State’s 36-28 prime-time victory over Notre Dame, the Irish managed just 57 rushing yards and 2.3 yards per carry.
But a lot has changed since then. Notre Dame returns four offensive line starters and three contributing running backs. Meanwhile, the Spartans finished 3-9 in 2016 and their starting defensive ends this season — junior Dillon Alexander and sophomore Kenny Willekes — are converted walk-ons that were awarded scholarships this spring.
Still, memories and replays of the Georgia sack linger.
And while McGlinchey’s response changes from week-to-week, his preparation never does.
“No matter who the guy is, whether it’s Harold Landry from Boston College or Little Sisters of the Poor, I still have to do my job to the best of my ability,” McGlinchey said. “Going out week to week, day in and day out, you’ve got to prepare like you’re playing the best player on your schedule every single day. That’s what playing O-line is about.
“You always look at yourself first and then you look at the defense for what they do and what they’re going to bring. But other than that, you’re in control of everything, and if I’m not practicing to get the All-American or the first-team All-Pro, then I’m probably not doing my job the right way.”