Irish line primed

After a season of inconsistency, Notre Dame’s offensive line took a major step forward in pounding LSU’s defensive front in the Music City Bowl. Now the position believes that breakthrough can be a bridge to next season after Brian Kelly turned the group loose with a ground game commitment.

Mike McGlinchey played with an edge in the Music City Bowl. He spoke with one too after Notre Dame’s 31-28 upset of LSU.

After stating his case for the starting right tackle job vacated by Christian Lombard, McGlinchey talked like the kind of offensive lineman the Irish need if Brian Kelly sticks with the run game that knocked back one of the nation’s best defenses. McGlinchey didn’t factor into many game plans this year, but he knew this was the coach’s best for offensive linemen.

“You just line up and get ready to kick some ass,” McGlinchey said. “We ran the ball probably three times as much as we've ever run it in a game, which is awesome for us because it's like hey, you're getting your number called and you have to rise up to the occasion.”

If Kelly commits to the Music City Bowl approach, relying on his line’s muscle to power the offense rather than his quarterback’s arm, Notre Dame could be on the verge of something offensively significant.

That four-touchdown performance against LSU was an outlier in Kelly’s career at Notre Dame against Top 10 scoring defenses. In the previous 10 cracks against programs ranked that high in scoring defense, the Irish totaled just 22 offensive touchdowns.

Now Kelly can look toward next year knowing his starting five against LSU will return intact, assuming Ronnie Stanley doesn’t declare for the NFL Draft. If Stanley returns it would give the Irish their highest number of returning starts (81) on the offensive line in Kelly’s tenure. It will be just the second time Notre Dame returns at least 70 starts at the position. The Irish brought back 78 line starts in 2013, spread among Zack Martin (39) Chris Watt (26) and Lombard (13).

Notre Dame returned 67 career starts on the offensive line during its BCS National Championship Game run and 63 career starts at the position the season prior.

In contrast, the program’s most uneven seasons under Kelly have also been Notre Dame’s greenest on the offensive line. The Irish brought back 54 career starts last year spread among six players. Lombard accounted for 20 of those and the fifth-year senior played with a bad back. Nick Martin also played with a hand injury.

Kelly’s first season ranked among the program’s worst in terms of line experience with just 36 career starts returning after Dan Wenger ended his Notre Dame career with multiple concussions. Chris Stewart (22) and Trevor Robinson (14) made up that total.

It’s enough to have the line already looking ahead.

“Huge momentum going into 2015,” Nick Martin said. “To be able to finish with a win, especially a win like that, is huge for our team.”

If McGlinchey is Notre Dame’s only new starter on the line – freshmen Quenton Nelson and Alex Bars could factor – the Irish could upgrade athletically at tackle to the 6-foot-7 ½, 310-pound athlete. Against LSU, the sophomore had no problem talking trash with the Tigers.

While he wasn’t perfect, turning a defensive end loose on Everett Golson that ended with the quarterback getting briefly knocked out of the game, McGlinchey more than held his own. His attitude would seem to fit what the Irish want at tackle and on the line as a whole.

“You're playing football and you're not going to go out there and get shoved around, so it's just the way the game is. You have to play with a chip on your shoulder and you have to fight,” McGlinchey said. “It’s a big step for (the line). We really feel good about the way we played today, the way we fought. Obviously we weren’t perfect. We did enough to get the job done and we played real hard.”

The bowl wrapped a frustrating season for McGlinchey, who opened training camp in a competition for the starting right tackle job with Steve Elmer. Elmer won it, but got moved back to guard after three games with Lombard returning to the edge. When the bulging disc in Lombard’s back hurt his play in November, McGlinchey ultimately took over in the second quarter at USC.

Now he could be looking at a three-year starting career at the position.

“It's tough to be on the bench a little bit this year,” McGlinchey said. “I knew there was a lot of great guys in front of me. You can never let yourself get down. You gotta stay positive. I was waiting for my chance and it finally came (against LSU).”

Christian’s been great with that and seeing all the things that he’s fought through in his career since I’ve been here, it’s really outstanding for a guy like him to be in front of you and I have the utmost respect for Christian and what he’s done for this program.”

Now it’s McGlinchey’s turn.

And if Kelly can maintain this commitment to the ground game, it might be the line’s turn to shine all next season. Top Stories