Notebook: Aaron Taylor believes Notre Dame O-Line could be elite

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

EAST LANSING, Mich. — Through the hiccups against Georgia and even the sheer dominance in stretches against Temple and Boston College, Aaron Taylor became convinced there is a higher ceiling for the Notre Dame offensive line.

A potential to be elite.

Saturday night’s 79th rendition of the Irish rivalry with Michigan State at Spartan Stadium was an important benchmark in terms of perpetuating that perception.

Taylor is not only a former Notre Dame All-America offensive lineman, he is the chairman of the Joe Moore Award voting committee. The Joe Moore Award annually goes to the nation’s top offensive line.

The Irish were among the finalists in 2015. They were an afterthought last season, and Michigan State’s 260-57 dominance in the run game in a 36-28 Spartan win at Notre Dame Stadium knocked the Irish out of contention.

They never played their way back in.

Early on Saturday night at Spartan Stadium both offensive lines seemed to be winning more battles than they were losing. By game's end, a 38-18 ND victgory, the Irish unit had more than survived and advanced.

“Stats are irrelevant,” Taylor said earlier in the week of what he and the award committed look for. “The six criteria I boiled it down to in measuring offensive line excellence were teamwork, effort, toughness, consistency, technique and finishing.

“Notre Dame has the potential to check all six boxes, but like every other unit in the country, they’ve got some work to do. None of us on the committee know which of the 130 are going to win, but the cream is starting to rise to the top.

“There are teams that are playing their way off the list, like Stanford, but nobody’s separated themselves in terms of moving toward winning it. The Michigan State game is an important data point.”

But the expectations will rise each week. The great lines, Taylor said, tend to get better as the season progresses.

“You’re working the techniques, you’re seeing more looks,” he said. “You’re seeing more context. So when they see a particular look in midseason, chances are it won’t be the first time they see it.

“And the more you rep something the better you’re going to get at it.”

Personnel matters

• Running back Tony Jones Jr. was held out of action Saturday night against Michigan State after suffering an ankle injury the previous Saturday against Boston College. Jones did make the trip, however.

• Ten true freshmen made the travel roster for ND, with the only one who hasn’t previously played in a game offensive lineman Josh Lugg.

The others on offense were offensive tackle Robert Hainsey, tight end Cole Kmet, wide receiver Michael Young and tight end Brock Wright.

On defense, safeties Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark Heath and defensive linemen Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa made the trip as did kicker Jonathan Doerer.

Batter up

He is known more for his Major League Baseball career, as an outfielder and a manager, but 60-year-old Kirk Gibson got some football love Saturday night at Spartan Stadium.

The former MSU All-America wide receiver served as honorary captain for the Notre Dame game. He also had his name and number (No. 23) added to the Spartan Stadium “Ring of Fame.”

Gibson will be enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame Dec. 5 in New York City.

Notable numbers

• Sophomore cornerback Julian Love’s 59-yard interception return for a touchdown in the first quarter was the first pick-six by an Irish player since Andrew Trumbetti’s against Wake Forest in 2015.

• ND quarterback Brandon Wimbush 15-yard scoring run on ND’s first drive of the game was the first offensive touchdown the Spartans had yielded this season.

Notre Dame offensive tackle Robert Hainsey (72) celebrates Notre Dame's 38-18 victory over Michigan State at Spartan Stadium in East Lansing, Mich. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)