'We don't have time.' Sense of urgency grows for Notre Dame's offensive line
SOUTH BEND ― For Notre Dame offensive line, Tuesday practices have a special name because those sessions need to be the fiercest of the week.
Following the 26-21 loss to Marshall that knocked the Irish (0-2) out of the AP Poll for the first time in 80-plus weeks, this Tuesday's practice had more urgency as the team tries to snap out of its early-season funk.
"We need to start gelling," right guard Josh Lugg said following Tuesday's practice. "... There is a fierce urgency to execute our fundamentals, know what we need to do and have the right technique that is taught by (offensive line) coach (Harry) Hiestand and give undeniable effort every single play."
Notre Dame's offensive line was expected to be the strongest unit on the offense side of the ball. But they have struggled in two games to get a consistent push for the run game and protection for the pass game, allowing five sacks.
Against No. 3 Ohio State in the season opener, the then No. 5 Irish were without All-American captain Jarrett Patterson at left guard and only managed 76 yards on 30 carries. With Patterson back against Marshall, the Irish ran for 130 yards on 37 carries, only 3.5 yards per attempt.
Lugg equates that lack of effectiveness to "Notre Dame beating Notre Dame," by not executing the details of the craft. He can see it when re-watching the game film, pointing out his demeanor before the snap, communication between teammates and instances of being prepared for a situation but simply not executing.
"That is what we are seeing on film," Lugg said. "Now it's about how can we execute and do what (offensive coordinator Tommy) Rees prepared us to do and the coaches prepared us to do. They have put us in the position to succeed. Starting with me, everyone needs to execute on the details."
Cal (2-0) appears to present an opportunity for Notre Dame's offense to wake up. The Golden Bears' defense has been average against the run, allowing 248 combined yards against UC Davis and UNLV, which ranks 62nd in college football, well below Ohio State (11th in college football) and Marshall (25th).
Future opponents don't matter as much, Lugg said, as Notre Dame's offensive line cleaning up its own mistakes. The starting group of Lugg, Blake Fisher, Joe Alt, Zeke Correll and Patterson are watching more film and taking note of when they have gone away from the basics.
Despite a groaning fan base, the message from coaches to the offensive line has been to stay the course. The expectation is talent and experience will take over and the offensive will click again.
Rees said he believes that it will come together with Patterson back and the younger guys — Fisher and Alt — gaining experience and establishing a continuity.
“Keep working, keep listening to coach Hiestand," Rees said of the O-line's magic potion. "(And) keep believing in each other and trusting each other."