Notebook: Freshman RB Logan Diggs helps keep surging Notre Dame O-line in line

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame’s Logan Diggs (22) leaps into the end zone for a touchdown during Notre Dame's 44-34 win over North Carolina on Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

SOUTH BEND — In the final two white-knuckler drives in a deafening atmosphere, of all places, the Notre Dame offensive line appeared to finally find itself four weeks ago.

Reinforced by an ensuing bye week of resetting, refocusing and building on its late rally at Virginia Tech on Oct. 9, the embattled unit can attribute part of its recent surge to a lineup change on the left side as well.

Freshman left tackle Joe Alt, who spent most of his high school career as a tight end, and junior left guard Andrew Kristofic, who has been a tackle for most of his college career and a backup center through this past fall camp, became regulars in the 32-29 win over the Hokies.

Including that game and the two that followed, the Irish have rushed for 643 yards and 5.1 yards a carry after laboring for 404 yards on 2.4 yards a carry in their first five games combined. Sacks and negative-yardage plays are way down, too.

In the past three games combined — against Virginia Tech, USC and North Carolina — the Irish have amassed a total of minus-27 yards in lost-yardage plays, with a season-low of six in the 44-34 win over the Tar Heels last Saturday. In the first five games of the season, the Irish amassed at least 25 yards in losses in each game with a high of minus-43 in a win over Wisconsin.

And a faster tempo on offense has sparked better efficiency from starting quarterback Jack Coan as well and was a welcome tweak for the offensive line.  

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“I think it was a combination of factors, but I think the biggest one was guys playing with more confidence out there,” senior center Jarrett Patterson said earlier this week, of the turnaround, as AP No. 8/CFP No. 10 Notre Dame (7-1) prepped for a resumption of its rivalry with Navy (2-6), Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium.

“Not being hesitant. Firing off the ball. And trusting the guy next to them. The biggest thing we try to preach and I’ve been telling them is, ‘Just do your job. Don’t try to do someone’s job next to you. Control what you can control. Do your job and everything will take care of itself.’”

And if the O-line ever loses its way, an unlikely but persistent voice will be in the ears of Patterson, Alt, Kristofic, right guard Cain Madden and right tackle Josh Lugg with an unsolicited critique.

Freshman running back Logan Diggs, who didn’t play a down in ND’s first five games, is that voice.

Since coming in off the bench Oct. 9 at Virginia Tech, Diggs has rushed for 74 yards on 20 carries, hopping over senior C’Bo Flemister on the depth chart and filling in during sophomore Chris Tyree’s turf toe injury to complement starter Kyren Williams.

Notre Dame freshman running back Logan Diggs (22) is congratulated as he walks off the field after ND's 44-34 win over North Carolina, Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Diggs scored on a one-yard vault into the end zone in the third quarter of the Carolina game win for his first collegiate TD.

“I think it was the play before he actually scored — it kind of got collapsed on the right side and he got tackled,” Patterson related. “He kind of got up and let us know, ‘Hey that’s not it. You guys have got to pick it up.’ That’s basically what he said. 

“Seeing Logan in the summer and the way he worked and how he can move, we kind of knew right off the bat he could be a special player. And into fall camp he showed flashes and when he’s gotten his opportunities so far this year.

“He shows incredible patience. He hits the hole, and he’ll even let us know if the play is not blocked right and to get our stuff going. He’s got some fire in him, which I don’t mind. I think it’s awesome.”

Added Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly, “Logan is an interesting young man. He's quiet in some respects. But one of the things that he has a very strong opinion on is what goes on in front of him.

“And he makes his opinion heard. And he's right. He's got a good football IQ, and he's not afraid to talk to those guys in the right way. So I hadn't quite seen that before. It caused a little bit of an early pushback, but they've got a great relationship now." 

Bauman returns

After suffering a broken fibula in the Sept. 5 season opener at Florida State, sophomore tight end Kevin Bauman is back.

“He is in the lineup. He will play,” Kelly said Thursday during his weekly Zoom session with the media. “He's on special teams as well. Moving really well. Pleased with his progress.”

Bauman could give the Irish another pass-catching option beyond Mackey Award semifinalist Michael Mayer.

The tight end position group has amassed 42 receptions for 480 yards and three touchdowns this season, and Mayer has 41 one of them for 465 yards and three touchdowns.

Notre Dame tight end Kevin Bauman (84) is carted through the concourse following an injury during the Notre Dame-Florida Statel game on Sunday, Sept. 5, 2021, in Tallahassee, Fla.

Personnel updates

Freshman left tackle Blake Fisher, also out since the season opener, likely wouldn’t return before a postseason game if at all this season, though he continues to progress well from September knee (meniscus) surgery.

“Fisher is active right now and doing lower-body exercises, moving around,” Kelly said. “He's ahead of the curve relative to where this injury would normally be. Whether that puts him in a playoff/bowl-game scenario, that's yet to be determined. But he's at least put himself in that consideration, because he's a little bit ahead of the curve. 

“So he's moving around. He's in our strength and conditioning every day. He is at every practice. He's been really diligent from that standpoint.”

• Wide receiver Braden Lenzy (concussion protocol) and defensive end Isaiah Foskey (shoulder) — both dinged up in the North Carolina game — both practiced this week, per Kelly.

Safety Kyle Hamilton, who suffered a knee injury Oct. 23 against USC, has not returned to practice yet and is out for Navy.

“Doing a nice job coaching, though,” Kelly said of the junior All-American. “I'd rather have him play.”

Shoulder shrug on the CFP rankings

It’s not like Kelly can completely ignore college football rankings.

The Irish 12th-year coach is one of 64 voters in the coaches poll each week, and the differences in where that group had the Irish (No. 8) and Cincinnati (No. 2) ranked and where those two teams landed in the first College Football Playoff rankings Tuesday night surprised him but didn’t faze him.

The Bearcats (8-0), who handed ND its only loss, are No. 6 in the CFP, and ND is No. 10.

"Nothing that I lost any sleep over, because it's the first week and there's so much more movement that's going to occur,” Kelly said. “I can go back to 2012, where we were (in the BCS standings). We had virtually no path and ended up playing for a championship.

“I think at first I was a little surprised, but like I said, the first one — everybody's kind of just feeling it out and putting some names down on paper. There's so much more football to be played. The rankings later in the month will mean so much more."

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @EHansenNDI

HOW TO WATCH NOTRE DAME VS. NAVY 

Who: No. 8 Notre Dame (7-1) vs. Navy (2-6) 

Kickoff: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT 

Where: Notre Dame Stadium 

TV: NBC/Peacock 

Radio: WSBT (AM 960), WNSN-FM (101.5) 

Line: Notre Dame by 21