Notre Dame OL Alex Bars knows preparation required to beat Stanford
The stated goal for Notre Dame’s offensive line has been to be the best blocking unit in the country.
Receiving the Joe Moore Award, given to college football’s most outstanding offensive line, at the end of last season provided validation.
But how do the Irish know how they stack up against the best offensive lines nationally? They’re not exactly scouring film of other offensive lines for comparisons.
“We just want to be the best that we can be,” said left guard Alex Bars. “Live up to our potential. Like I said before the season even started, we can be that group. It’s just preparing that way, mastering your technique and trying to progress week in and week out.”
No one can suggest that Notre Dame’s been the best offensive line in the country through the first four weeks of the season. The constant pressure quarterback Brandon Wimbush faced in the first two games against Michigan and Ball State certainly disqualifies the Irish from the conversation.
However, the last two weeks have shown a unit coming together to better protect its quarterback and create clearer running lanes for its backs. Against Wake Forest, quarterback Ian Book was pressured on just 10 of his 41 dropbacks (24.4 percent). That’s a significant improvement from the pressure Ball State generated on 52.6 percent of Notre Dame’s 38 dropbacks.
Stanford’s defense, no doubt, will provide a bigger challenge than Wake Forest’s did. The Cardinal are tied at No. 12 in the country with 3.25 sacks per game and tied at No. 10 nationally for allowing only 13.5 points per game.
“They’re well-disciplined like every year,” Bars said. “They do the technique that they’re taught. They play really hard. They’re good players.”
Saturday night, the Irish have the opportunity to prove themselves as the best offensive line on the field. Stanford’s line has battled injuries to start the season, but the Cardinal have a reputation for fielding a top offensive line too.
Bars swatted away a suggestion of that providing any extra motivation.
“We just know that our preparation has to match what we’ve been doing — what we did last week — so that we can execute and play the way that we have the potential to play with,” Bars said.
That preparation led to 566 yards of total offense, including 241 yards on the ground, against Wake Forest. The Irish managed all that production with Trevor Ruhland replacing starter Tommy Kraemer while he was hampered with an ankle injury.
Ruhland, a senior making his first career start, played well enough that he likely will see more playing time again on Saturday.
“Trevor’s really smart,” Bars said. “He’s been backing up Sam (Mustipher) at center for the past couple years now. He’s a very savvy player, so I had a lot of faith in him going in, a lot of trust that he’d do his job.”
With Ruhland and Bars at guard, the Irish have a pair of players comfortable pulling as lead blockers. Bars wouldn’t admit to having a preference on blocking scheme, but he did single out how much he enjoys the art of the pull block.
“It’s wide open field,” Bars said. “It’s a clear man, and you know the running back’s right behind you so it’s you versus your guy and your block springs the play basically.”
There was a time when Stanford wanted Bars to be a part of its offensive line. As a recruit out of Nashville (Tenn.) Montgomery Bell Academy, Bars received a scholarship offer from the Cardinal. He was much more interested in Notre Dame.
“It’s a cool school,” Bars said of Stanford. “Far away from home. Not the best fan base, I guess. Nothing like Notre Dame.”
But on the field and in the classroom, Stanford and Notre Dame have plenty of similarities. Both schools often target the same high school prospects. The Cardinal have won their share of recruiting battles against the Irish. The dominance on the field has been equally impressive.
Notre Dame hasn’t beaten Stanford since 2014 when Bars was a true freshman. By this point, Bars knows what to expect come Saturday night.
“Each year they’re so aggressive,” Bars said. “We’re so aggressive. We go head-to-head each quarter, each play. It’s come down to the fourth quarter with this team for the past four years since I’ve been here.
“It’s two very well-disciplined, hard teams going at each other.”
May the best line win.