Just as everyone suspected, the problems this season with the Irish offense have revolved around the offensive line.
Okay, no one predicted that. I'm sure most OFD readers expected Larz to be breaking down the issues with Notre Dame stopping the run and not the problems the Irish have experienced running the ball. But break down the run game he did and not surprisingly, the offensive line is playing a big part in the struggle to move the football via the ground.
We know they can play better and we hope that the switches Notre Dame made to the offensive line during the bye week (Nick Martin to left guard, Matt Hegarty to center, Steve Elmer inside to right guard, and Christian Lombard back out to right tackle) help out in a big way. I believe that they will and that Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand will fix what needs to be fixed in that area.
A big reason I believe that is because I believe in the talent that Notre Dame has recruited at the position and Hiestand's track record of developing players. Since Brian Kelly has been at Notre Dame, the Irish have recruited twelve 4 star or better players along the offensive line. To reiterate how impressive that is, Alabama has recruited thirteen during that same time period. That's the same Alabama that has recruited better than just about anyone in the nation during that time, just in case you hadn't heard.
Notre Dame has two more 4 star offensive linemen committed in the current recruiting class and one of those is the number one center prospect in the nation, Tristen Hoge.
I broke down what I saw from Hoge's junior film back in April and I saw him in person in July at The Opening. He struggled at times against some phenomenal defensive tackle prospects, but I did say in my review after that he was going to be a lot better because of the experience of competing at the event.
Based on what I have seen from Hoge's senior film thus far, I would say that's pretty accurate. Hoge dominated as a junior at Highland (Idaho) and is even more dominant now as a senior. He's playing even meaner now and it's a pleasure to watch.
He occasionally runs into the same issue he has with stopping his feet on contact at times, but it's a rare occurrence because he is too busy driving kids into the ground. Here's a couple of examples of what I'm referring to:
Hoge is a natural center that already plays the position in high school. The team Highland is playing is their biggest rival, Pocatello High. I'll get to why that is relevant in a minute.
Hoge is working a double team on the nose guard. You can see that they already have a really good push initially off the snap with the block happening at around the 50 yard line.
This is the point Hoge takes it to another level. The nose guard is so desperate for the play to end that he turns his back hoping that Hoge that will give up and accept the play is done.
Hoge doesn't care. The play is pretty much over with, but not for Hoge. He intends to finish his block.
Remember when I said the block was initiated at the 50? Yeah, that's him driving the nose tackle to the ground at the 40. That's mean! That's finish! That's Hoge wanting to destroy his rival school. There's some hate involved in that block and I love it.
I thought that play was going to be enough, but there was another play that I feel obligated to show.
The jump from the first to the second screen shot is a bit drastic, but it was on purpose to show where Hoge got to while pulling to protect with his quarterback rolling to his left. A linebacker steps up to rush and Hoge picks him up.
Hoge has sustained his block, but his quarterback isn't able to find an open man. In the design of the play, the ball was supposed to be out by now, but that's obviously not the case because of the coverage. It's a tough spot for an offensive lineman to be in to have to pass block this long.
At this point, Hoge is just looking for someone to block. "Oh, hi there. I choose you, unsuspecting defensive lineman that was likely planning to jog for the rest of this play."
Look at where the quarterback is. Hoge doesn't need to finish this block. He just really, really wants to and the defender is not happy about it. It's tough to see, but he's about to rip off Hoge's helmet because he is so angry at what Hoge is doing to him.
The last screenshot is just too perfect. There's Hoge with his helmet off. He did such a good job trying to finish his block that the defender's only defense was to rip off his helmet. That is next level effort and a desire to finish his block that is awesome to see.
This is lofty praise, but seeing a center get after it like that reminds me of former Irish great Jeff Faine. If Hoge has half the career that Faine did at Notre Dame, then I think every Notre Dame fan would be pretty happy.
I would be shocked if Notre Dame's offensive line doesn't vastly improve over the next nine games of the season and I expect the Irish to be even better upfront in the coming years with the development and maturation of some of the young talent on the roster. Adding a player who competes like Hoge is only going to make the unit that much stronger and help ensure the success of the offensive line in future years.