Notre Dame sophomore Jarrett Patterson finding power at center position

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Jarrett Patterson just wanted to keep up with the pace.

In his first season as CFP No. 15 Notre Dame’s starting center, the sophomore offensive lineman needed to adjust to the speed of the game. He needed to stop guessing too.

With defenders in front of him, Patterson tried to anticipate what the defense was going to do to counteract the Irish offense. In theory, Patterson would be in a better position to handle the speed if he knew what was coming.

Patterson quickly learned that anticipation is important, but it can’t be relied on consistently. If he guessed wrong, his defender could be in prime position to disrupt the play.

The 6-foot-5, 300-pounder eventually discovered a better balance of anticipation and reaction. Patterson certainly has much more to learn after making 12 starts this season, but he trusts himself to get the job done.

“Once I kind of got that down and understood it, I felt much more powerful, much more confident in my abilities to play center,” Patterson said.

Patterson didn’t doubt that he had the athleticism to play center. The former offensive tackle moves well. But barreling up to massive defensive tackles required much more than quickness. A center can’t avoid physicality.

Patterson gave himself an uneven grade in handling that part of the position.

“I felt I did good at times,” Patterson said. “At times, I felt I wasn’t as consistent. That’s definitely the biggest thing going into next year is just being more consistent doing it.”

Another offseason in the weight room should help Patterson be better next season. It was only last winter when Patterson made the switch to center to step into the void left by three-year starter Sam Mustipher.

Patterson’s inconsistencies mirror the running game struggles for Notre Dame (10-2). There’s plenty of blame to be shared among an underwhelming running back group hampered by injuries, an offensive line that dealt with the loss of two starters on the right side and an offensive coordinator that wasn’t afraid to abandon the running game.

But Patterson isn’t running away from the criticism.

“We just have to be more consistent,” Patterson said. “We have great running backs. (Running backs) coach (Lance) Taylor’s done a great job with those guys. Jafar (Armstrong), Tony (Jones Jr.), Kyren (Williams), Mick (Assaf), anytime those guys get in, they run extremely hard. C’Bo (Flemister), Jahmir (Smith).

“In pass protection, you see their physicality. They finish runs. We just have to get them the holes to run through and they’ll make it happen.”

Doing so against Iowa State (7-5) in Saturday’s Camping World Bowl (noon EST on ABC) won’t be easy. The Cyclones have surrendered just 133.8 rushing yards per game, which ranks No. 34 in the FBS. That’s not necessarily the result of pass-heavy offenses in the Big 12 either. In only three games this season did an Iowa State opponent rush for more yards against the Cyclones than that offense averaged for the season.

Iowa State even limited Oklahoma State running Chubba Hubbard, who leads the country with 1,936 rushing yards and 161.3 yards per game, to a respectable 116 yards and one touchdown in a 34-27 loss to the Cowboys.

“This Iowa State defense we’re facing, it’s one of the best in the Big 12,” Patterson said. “They’re stout up front. We have to be ready for a battle. That’s what it’s going to be.”

The Irish finished the regular season No. 46 in rushing offense with 176.8 yards per game but made a surge in the final four games of the season despite playing without starting right tackle Robert Hainsey and starting right guard Tommy Kraemer. Notre Dame rushed for 160.5 yards per game with 4.55 yards per carry in the first eight games of the season. In the final four games, the Irish rushed for 208.8 yards per game with 5.42 yards per carry.

Kraemer went down with an MCL sprain in the seventh game of the season against Michigan. Hainsey broke his ankle in game No. 8 against Virginia Tech. Graduate student Trevor Ruhland and junior Josh Lugg replaced them in the starting lineup, respectively.

“After that, we started rolling guys,” said Hainsey, who was named the team’s Offensive Lineman of the Year earlier this month. “Watching and being able to help as much as I can has been a blast. Everything we do, I’m always looking to see what can we do better and trying to relay that to the guys. Everyone’s always willing to hear that and go from there.”

Hainsey, who played in a rotation with Kraemer at right tackle in his freshman year, knows the challenge of coming off the bench to play offensive line. Whether it’s run blocking or pass protecting, Hainsey said the difficulty is the same.

It all starts with trust.

Patterson started to trust himself as he gained experience. The rest of the offensive line has done the same in trying to stabilize the offense.

“It’s just about doing your job and trusting the guy next to you does his job,” Hainsey said. “We have a great deal of trust in our room that allows us to go out there and focus on what you need to do and trust that the next guy will do his. When you’re worried about other people, you miss your assignment.”

Jarrett Patterson (55) started all 12 games for Notre Dame at center in his first season playing the position.
Notre Dame offensive linemen Aaron Banks (69), Jarrett Patterson (55), Trevor Ruhland (57), and Tommy Kraemer (78) gather for the Alma Mater following Notre Dame’s win over Boston College Nov. 23 in South Bend.

WHAT: Camping World Bowl

WHO: CFP No. 15/AP No. 14 Notre Dame (10-2) vs. Iowa State (7-5)

WHEN: Saturday at noon EST.

WHERE: Camping World Stadium, Orlando, Fla.

TV: ABC

RADIO: WSBT (960 AM, 96.1 FM), WNSN-FM (101.5)

LINE: Notre Dame by 3.5