Stanley Last Man Standing

Notre Dame offensive lineman Ronnie Stanley proved to be a quick study on the opposite side of scrimmage. Despite myriad changes around him thereafter, the junior has remained a consistent force in his role as Notre Dame's left tackle.

Four weeks ago, Notre Dame's offensive line endured five changes at four positions. Only Ronnie Stanley remained. There was a reason.

There was no need to tinker with what obviously worked.

"I definitely took to left tackle and made it something I really wanted to do," said Stanley of his switch from right tackle last spring. "Really focused on that being my position, being good at it. Being a trust-worthy, responsible player. I know it's a position of responsibility. They (staff) know I wanted to take that on and have that opportunity."

Including 13 contests at right tackle last fall, Stanley has started 19 straight games, and in most of the last six, he's been the offensive line's best player. It was again the case Saturday vs. North Carolina.

"Ronnie Stanley was outstanding," said head coach Brian Kelly of the unit's performance vs. the Tar Heels. "Graded out the highest.

"It was probably their most consistent (outing) in terms of run blocking. We missed a couple of calls. We were out of position on a couple of things. Nick (Martin) is still feeling his way through on a couple of areas…Matt (Hegarty) does some pretty good things in the run game. Once in a while in protections he gets overextended and (Steve) Elmer is really starting to settle in at that guard position. 

"So we feel like we're getting there. We had a combination of things in some pass protection that were quarterback-related, running back-related, and communication-related that we've got to get better at."

Stanley was flagged twice Saturday for holding, the first holding calls against him this fall (one was likely in error). But Irish Eyes film review credited Stanley with 12 overwhelming "wins" on various snaps that led to important gains by the Irish offense vs. just two errors (the holds) and one block attempt in which he was beaten (ceded too much ground).

He offered prior to Saturday's contest that working though the changes up front is as much about communication as honing new techniques.

"It's a big change for the O-Line in general. It's always hard to regenerate," said Stanley. "Techniques, working on them at the same time. It's hard, something we needed to tinker with and we still are to this day. Just making sure we're on the same page and knowing where people are going to be for different techniques at different positions. My technique didn't really change as much. But getting it together with the guy next to me (Martin) is different. Talking to them, getting each other's lingo. Being on the same page."

The new alignment was on the same page enough in their debut game, Syracuse, to finish 7-for-7 in short-yardage conversions running the football. One week later, Stanford's front seven provided the season's most telling test.

Stanley offered he and his line mates passed -- and that's in the eyes of a notoriously tough grader, offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

"Coach definitely said he saw the fight in us the whole game," said Stanley. "Fighting, using our technique. Little things to fix in terms of technique, but fundamentally we were always in good position, knowing where we were going. They have a really complex defense and do a lot of different things. Knowing who's working with who, where we're going, and being physical throughout. We took it as a challenge and did well.

"Definitely a physical experience," he continued. "It's all out for four quarters in a whole game. No plays off. No easy plays at all. You have to be prepared. We all were and we knew what to expect. We came out and fought the whole game. I was proud of everyone."

Notre Dame's rushing game production has increased each week after a dismal 1.7 yards-per-carry effort vs. Michigan. Saturday vs. the Tar Heels, Stanley & Co. paved the way for the best day by a runner this fall as Tarean Folston gained 98 yards with another 55 via three screen passes (71 total receiving overall). Stanley, Martin, and Hegarty were the key lead blockers on Folston's 37-yard middle screen that got the Irish offense rolling after falling into a two turnover, 14-0 hole.

"The offensive line was great today," said Folston post-game. "Kudos to them. That (middle screen) got everybody juiced up. After that, I was yellin'. I was just 'krunk.' And I feel like that energy hit the whole team."

The offense produced 219 net rushing yards at a 5.1 gain per rush. Both numbers mark the best vs. a Power Five conference foe since (oddly) a 29-carry, 220-yard rushing effort vs. Oklahoma in a 35-21 loss last fall.

"It's how we do it, not what comes out of it," said Stanley of the spike in rushing numbers of late. "When you get into the film room you're more focused on what you need to do to get better. From a player perspective, we're not really thinking how many rush yards we're getting. We don't hear that number until way after the game is over. So it's not our concern.

"You definitely want to hear good numbers," he added.

They did this week. To win Saturday night in Tallahassee, they'll need to when they gather with Hiestand again.


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