Trojans become latest victims of Notre Dame's 'Maul Cops'

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — The photos look like they’re posed. Each Notre Dame starting offensive lineman kneeling next to each other in the same lineup in which they take the field.

Notre Dame has used some of the photos on social media to promote the dominance of the offensive line unit. It’s a small detail, but it symbolizes how well the Irish linemen work together.

“We don’t purposely line up like that,” said center Sam Mustipher. “It just happens because we get out of our chairs that way. It makes for some pretty cool photos.”

But it’s a sight that opposing defenses shouldn’t like to see. USC’s front seven became the latest flattened foe as the Irish rushed for 377 yards and five touchdowns in a 49-14 destruction of the Trojans.

“It’s all about doing everything together,” said left tackle Mike McGlinchey. “We’re the only position on the field that has to have five guys working in unison at all times. The closer that you get and the more time you spend with each other, normally better things happen.”

Better things like an 84-yard touchdown run by running back Josh Adams right through the heart of the USC defense. Adams wasn’t even touched on his seventh run of at least 59 yards this season.

Right guard Alex Bars pinned a USC defensive lineman inside, Mustipher took on linebacker Cameron Smith and the rest of the Trojans were looking at Adams’ taillights in less than three seconds.

“It’s awesome,” Mustipher said. “It’s just being on the same page. We knew where we were going. We knew what play was coming. It was something we envisioned all week. It was something we worked on all week.

“We knew if we protect the linebackers, and we put Josh in a one-on-one position or give him a hole, he’s going to get through there. He has the chance to take it the distance every time he touches it.”

Mustipher has little doubt that the 6-foot-2, 225-pound Adams will pull away from defenders chasing him. Except maybe, Mustipher suggested with a laugh, former USC cornerback Adoree Jackson, now playing for the Tennessee Titans, who the Irish played against last year.

“When he gets going, we’re pretty confident,” Mustipher said of Adams. “It’s a great feeling.”

Adams, a junior, finished with 191 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Quarterback Brandon Wimbush added 106 yards and two touchdowns on the ground.

It was a dominating performance against a USC front seven missing significant contributors like outside linebacker Porter Gustin and defensive tackle Josh Fatu. But the Trojans still have enough talent on defense to make most college football programs jealous.

“We knew USC was going to try to bring it to us no matter who was on the field,” McGlinchey said. “We worked our butts off the last two weeks to be able to make sure we dominated that.”

McGlinchey has frequently described defenses as faceless opponents. It’s a phrase meant to emphasize a focus from within rather than on the other team.

“We look at their defense for their scheme, where they’re going to be lining up and what they’re going to bring. Other than that, we just focus on ourselves,” McGlinchey said. “That’s where we’ve been growing a lot — being able to shut out everything that doesn’t matter to us and being able to improve on ourselves. That’s where we’ve seen a lot of growth.”

The faceless opponents have names and most have failed to stand tall against Notre Dame’s offensive line. Only Georgia, which limited Notre Dame to 55 yards on the ground, has left a matchup against the Irish with its head held high.

Temple: 422 rushing yards.

Boston College: 515 rushing yards.

Michigan State: 182 rushing yards.

Miami (Ohio): 333 rushing yards.

North Carolina: 341 rushing yards.

USC: 377 rushing yards.

Those six defenses have become victims of the “Maul Cops.” That’s the official nickname of Notre Dame’s offensive line, credited to Quenton Nelson’s father, Craig. It’s a tag the unit has embraced as a fitting description of the preferred playing style.

“It’s just fighting, effort each and every snap,” Mustipher said. “It’s not always pretty. It doesn’t always look great. Every play isn’t an 84-yard touchdown. Just fighting and the effort that we have each play. Effort makes up for a lot of things. That’s what we take pride in.”

Even if a pun-inspired nickname might be a little cheesy, it’s OK with the Irish.

“We’re just happy that we can make our families proud and have people as invested as they are into us,” McGlinchey said. “Whatever nicknames anybody wants to throw at us, if they’re good, we’re all right with it.”

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame’s Josh Adams (33) runs the ball during the Notre Dame-Southern California NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 21, 2017, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN