Notes: Former OL Mike McGlinchey keeps close eye on Irish

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

BLACKSBURG, Va. — An East Coast guy living a new life on the West Coast, former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey admitted a piece of his heart remains in the Midwest.

A big piece.

Now a rookie lineman with the San Francisco 49ers learning professional football after being selected with the ninth pick of April’s draft, McGlinchey still keeps up with what’s happening back in South Bend. Which for him means absorbing everything he can read or hear about the Irish. How much does he dive into news and views about Notre Dame football?

“All the time,” McGlinchey said last week during a telephone interview on what was scheduled to be his off day. “I’m Notre Dame through and through and always have been. I’m watching the boys from afar and they’re doing an awesome job. I’m excited to see what they might do this year.”

Excited heading into Saturday’s prime-time showdown at No. 24 Virginia Tech (which ended after Tribune deadline) but crushed for left guard Alex Bars, McGlinchey’s next-door neighbor on the offensive line last season. Bars suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee during the Sept. 30 victory over then-No. 6 Stanford. It will cost Bars the rest of the season and, in essence, end his collegiate career.

“It’s heart-breaking,” McGlinchey said. “Everybody loves him. Having it taken away from him in his last year is pretty tough to deal with. He’s going to be fine in the future, but it’s tough watching your buddy go through it.”

McGlinchey also has watched the Irish offense go through a transformation after Ian Book stepped in at quarterback two weeks ago. The unit hit another gear that it just couldn’t get to with former starter Brandon Wimbush. Heading into Saturday’s game against Virginia Tech, Notre Dame averaged 47 points and 558 yards in Book’s two starts.

McGlinchey could see this coming. He saw it last October when Book made his first career start at North Carolina. McGlinchey was Book’s left-tackle protection that day, and sensed from the first snap he took that Book just had it. Confidence then was high that the Irish could win with Book. It’s even higher now.

“Ian’s a gamer,” McGlinchey said. “He’s been that way since he showed up on campus and has done nothing but get better and better and better since he’s been in South Bend.

“He’s got all the right stuff.”

Preparing for Sunday’s home game against Arizona, McGlinchey hoped to see some of Saturday’s game, which was scheduled to kick around 5:21 Pacific time. The previous week, McGlinchey caught the first three quarters against Stanford before going into meeting in preparation for the next day’s game against the Los Angeles Rams.

He likes life as a pro, where it’s football 24/7. But he still misses being a college kid in South Bend. Not necessarily the classroom commitments and “all the fat” that comes with being a student-athlete, but the faces around campus.

“Places are places, but what makes them special are the people and the attachments that you have to the people there,” said McGlinchey, a Philadelphia native. “South Bend certainly has that for me and the people there.

“It’s home.”

A tough start

Expected to be the starting right tackle after making his college home on the left side, McGlinchey didn’t have to wait long to realize everything in the NFL can change like that.

Against Minnesota in his NFL debut, the 6-foot-8, 315-pound McGlinchey started at right guard after injuries left the Niners with no able body at the spot. Doing it at a position he had never before played was his welcome to pro football moment.

“That wasn’t super fun,” he said of a game the Niners lost 24-16. “I had never practiced there. That was a whirlwind moment for sure.”

McGlinchey eventually adjusted to the spot, and to the difference of playing professional and college football. It’s a big one, something that no amount of college success can prepare rookies to handle.

“The game’s the same; it’s just that people move a lot faster here because they can,” he said. “They know their stuff a lot better. Everybody’s a pro and they study everything for a living so they move and decide how to react very quickly.

“Everybody always knows what they’re doing.”

Road work

Much of the talk leading into Saturday night’s game at Lane Stadium centered on the electric atmosphere that Notre Dame couldn’t handle last season against Miami (Fla.). The Irish had to talk a lot the last few days about that night in South Florida, but left tackle Liam Eichenberg had a better memory he drew on to do his job against the Hokies.

Last year’s win against Michigan State at Spartan Stadium, also at night, also in front of a raucous crowd. But not for long. Not after the Irish jumped to a 28-7 halftime lead and win 38-18.

“It kind of feels like you defeated the whole stadium (with) fans leaving at halftime,” Eichenberg said. “In the end, that’s the ideal goal for any team in that situation.”

Settling in

With Bars down for the season, senior offensive lineman Trevor Ruhland was slated to start Saturday at left guard. Ruhland has been groomed as the center in waiting to replace senior captain Sam Mustipher next season but has cross-trained at various positions. He made his first career start last month at right guard against Wake Forest.

He would start to Mustipher’s left against the Hokies.

“You have to be ready to step in at all times,” Mustipher said. “He should have no problem.”

Confidence in Ruhland was high along the entire left side.

“Trevor Ruhland knows what he’s doing,” Eichenberg said. “He’s been around ball enough.”

Freshman Aaron Banks jumped into the two-deep Saturday as Ruhland’s backup.

Quick study

Wimbush won his first three starts but there remained a feeling around the program that the Irish offense had barely scratched the surface. That Wimbush just didn’t mesh with more than a few chapters of offensive coordinator Chip Long’s playbook.

Not so with Book, who’s as confident with the first chapter as he is the last.

“I should be able to run every play he wants to call,” Book said of Long. “I feel comfortable running every play he has.”

It shows.

Blacksburg bits

• One of the more popular Virginia Tech jerseys seen around town this weekend — and even spotted Friday morning in O’Hare Airport — is No. 25. That was the number worn as a player by former Hokie coach Frank Beamer, who was honored pre-game Saturday with an unveiling of a statue of his likeness outside Lane Stadium. Beamer was 238-121-2 in 29 years as Virginia Tech head coach.

• Notre Dame entered Saturday’s game with an overall strength of schedule of 8.

• At No. 24, Virginia Tech (at least for now) is the last ranked team remaining on the Irish schedule.

• Irish coach Brian Kelly was a career 11-13 against teams in the Associated Press Top 25 heading into Saturday.

• Thunder showers rolled through Lane Stadium about two and a half hours before kickoff. The rain provided only a little relief to the early-evening humidity.

• The Irish allowed fewer than 17 points in four of their first five games.

• Notre Dame’s traveling party wasn’t expected to return to South Bend on its charter flight out of Virginia until 3:45 a.m. — at the earliest.

Former Notre Dame offensive lineman Mike McGlinchey, now with the San Francisco 49ers, likes what he’s seen from Irish quarterback Ian Book.

Coverage of Saturday night's Notre Dame-Virginia Tech college football game can be found online at ndinsider.com or in Monday's print edition of the South Bend Tribune.