Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Regular-season report card: Offensive line
By Matt Fortuna
The regular season is over and the end of the semester has arrived. Here, we grade Notre Dame's 2011 campaign by position. Part three of the 10-part series brings us to the offensive line.
Summary: Beginning the season with four returning starters (and finishing with three), the Notre Dame offensive line figured to be a strength entering 2011, and it was. After surrendering five sacks in the first four games of the season, the Irish then went the entire month of October without giving one up. The line had its trouble at Stanford, surrendering five sacks, but managed to finish the regular season tied for 17th in sacks allowed, giving up just 13 on the year.
On the ground, Notre Dame may very well have had two 1,000-yard rushers this season if not for Jonas Gray's ACL tear on Senior Day against Boston College. Gray finished with 791 yards in less than 11 full games, and Cierre Wood rushed for 1,042 yards in the regular season. Center Braxston Cave went down Nov. 5 at Wake Forest with a left foot injury and was replaced by Mike Golic Jr., who filled in nicely.
The line could do without so many flags, as it was a big reason the Irish were ranked 80th in the nation in penalties. But the 2011 campaign was by and large a successful one for the men in the trenches.
Backups: Golic emerged as starter after Cave went down and could return next year, though his role is, at the moment, undefined. Cave will likely be withheld from contact in the spring, giving Golic more reps at center. The senior does have experience at guard, too, and could possibly take over Trevor Robinson's role there next season, which would give the Irish four experienced starters for 2012. The question mark comes at right tackle, where fifth-year senior Taylor Dever will leave a hole next season.