#9 Offensive LineNew starters Taylor Dever and Zack Martin led the way early as bookend tackles while junior guard Trevor Robinson played his best football during an impressive November stretch.
Starters/key reserves: Sophomore left tackle Zack Martin; 5th-year senior left guard Chris Stewart; junior center Braxston Cave; junior right guard Trevor Robinson; senior right tackle Taylor Dever. Key backups include senior tackle Matt Romine and sophomore guard Chris Watt. Senior guard Andrew Nuss, junior center Mike Golic, and sophomore guard Alex Bullard also saw time.
IrishEyes' pre-season rank: No. 9 (of 12)
Quote to note: "We're not there yet, but we're moving in a position where we think we've got eight to 10 guys that we know can play winning football. What we want is five guys that can play championship football." – Irish head coach Brian Kelly following the Blue Gold Game. (He reiterated the observation in early August).
By the numbers: The front line paved the way for more than 145 rushing yards in five separate contests for the first time since 2005 (Weis' first squad posted six separate games in excess of 150 rushing yards). They allowed one sack or fewer on seven separate Saturdays despite an offense that averaged more than 37 passes per game including seven contests in which Irish QBs dropped back to pass 38 to 55 times.
The group allowed just 20 sacks over 12 games, the lowest team total since 2000 (also 20 sacks).
The Irish offense hit the 4-yard per carry mark (4.0 exactly) for the first season since 2003 (Julius Jones keyed another 4.0 average) and only the third time over the last decade (2000-10). Each of the four Irish tailbacks averaged at least 4.8 yards per rush (Sacks are included, and the QB tandem of Dayne Crist and Tommy Rees totaled 63 rushes for 70 yards, lowering the team average).
On a sobering note, Notre Dame rushed for a paltry 10 touchdowns in 2010 – the lowest total at the program in the modern era.
Best momentsBoston College finished as the nation's No. 1 ranked rush defense, allowing 2.66 yards per carry and just 80 yards per game while surrendering a mere 7 rushing touchdowns over its 12 game slate.
But on October 2 in Chestnut Hill, Notre Dame charged for 112 yards and a rushing score. A 30-yard carry by senior Armando Allen – the longest of his Irish career – set up another touchdown for the visitors while Notre Dame's front wall yielded just one sack on 45 pass attempts en route to a 31-13 victory in a contest much more one-sided than the final score indicates.
But one drive in the final regular season game served as a microcosm for the offense's efficient end to the 2010 campaign. In the Los Angeles Coliseum, the Irish offensive line opened holes for Robert Hughes (four carries) and Cierre Wood (1) for runs of 26, 6, 12, 13, and 5 yards en route to the game-winning (rushing) score by Hughes vs. rival USC. The 62 rushing yards on five final drive snaps accounted for more than 42 percent of the team's total rushing output in the contest.
Notre Dame finished 6-0 when it produced more rushing yards than the opponent, extending the program's winning streak with that statistic to 26 straight games.
Moments to forget: 4th and a foot.
That's what separated Notre Dame from a first series, 13-play, 71-yard touchdown drive in an eventual 35-17 loss to Navy. But a meek QB sneak attempt by Dayne Crist behind the 940 collective pounds of Braxston Cave, Chris Stewart and Zack Martin managed to move the Navy pile approximately one inch. The undersized Midshipmen won that battle at scrimmage – a development that repeated at key times during the contest including a 4th down, 3rd Quarter sack of Crist – in a humbling loss for the Irish in the New Meadowlands.
Notre Dame enjoyed a balanced attack early, rushing for 307 yards over the season's first two contests (68 runs vs. 70 passes). But the offense managed just 335 yards on 111 carries over the next four outings, attempting 184 passes in that four-game set.
Eligibility status: Only 5th-year senior Chris Stewart is guaranteed to play his final collegiate game in the December 31 Sun Bowl. Senior tackles Taylor Dever and Matt Romine as well as senior guard/tackle Andrew Nuss could all apply for a fifth-year of eligibility as season's end.
Juniors Braxston Cave, Mike Golic and tackle Lane Clelland can do the same following 2011. They should be with the Irish through 2012 thanks to freshman year red-shirts. A trio of sophomores: Zack Martin, Chris Watt, and Alex Bullard were also withheld from action as true freshman in 2009. They consequently could finish as 5th-year players in 2013.
5th-year senior center Dan Wenger did not play this season due to concussions. He was withheld from action as a true freshman in 2006 as well and will thus apply for a rare 6th-season in 2011.
Final Analysis: Notre Dame never attained head coach Brian Kelly's vision of five championship level offensive linemen (quoted below), but they did play winning football for the bulk of the season. The program's front wall improved for the fourth straight season after bottoming out in 2007 (and finishing poorly, though vs. much tougher competition, in a successful 2006).
Poor outings vs. Stanford, Navy and (relatively speaking) Michigan did not outweigh solid efforts put forth vs. Purdue, Michigan State (one sack allowed), Boston College, Utah, and vs. lesser competition in WMU and Army.
The unit as a whole is the only group to finish exactly where we projected (based completely on opinion in both instances, of course). Four players are expected to return from the starting five as could every contributing backup while two promising freshman, Lombard and Nichols, enter the ranks.
2010 produced an acceptable effort from the Irish offensive line. The unit gelled in November when entrusted in a power blocking scheme. Improving adequate totals of 4.0 yards per carry and 20 sacks allowed next season would help put an extra win or two on the final ledger.