SOUTH BEND – Notre Dames offensive line remembers the dark times.
As the Irish piled up 21 losses from 2007 to 09, the line was often pointed to as a weakness. Notre Dame gave up too many sacks (105) and couldnt run (110.5 yards per game) in those three seasons.
There was definitely that time if the O-line was playing better, Notre Dame would be better, said senior right guard Trevor Robinson, who started three games as a freshman in 2008 and became a full-time starter in 2009.
It was, They cant protect the quarterback, and they cant run the ball. It was just about everything was coming down on us. Thats fine. I think the offensive line is going to take a lot of blame for a lot of teams that dont play well. In a lot of instances, it was probably the truth.
Notre Dames line started to shed its underachieving reputation last year when it limited opponents to 1 1/2 sacks per game, and the Irish averaged 126.6 rushing yards.
Notre Dames line has been even better through this season, giving up less than a sack per game (0.8), as the team averages 194 rushing yards.
We talked about it with (offensive line coach Ed Warinner), we dont want to be the whipping boys around here any more, left tackle Zack Martin said. We wanted to make it our priority to turn this thing around. We know the games are won up front, so weve taken it upon ourselves to change how we play the game.
The line will be challenged when Notre Dame (4-2) plays host to USC (5-1) on Saturday. The Trojans average 2.2 sacks and are limiting opponents to 99.5 rushing yards per game.
The Irish are confident that their front five of Martin, left guard Chris Watt, center Braxston Cave, Robinson and right tackle Taylor Dever can handle the challenge.
Individual players have improved, coach Brian Kelly said. Braxston Cave is a different player than he was last year. Hes just a better football player. Playing center in the shotgun was a bit of a departure for him. So it starts at the center position. Braxston is a much better player.
You have Zack Martin who is a first-time starter. Taylor Dever, first-time starter, and then I think you look at the physical development of Robinson. I think thats where this football team on the offensive line has improved individually and collectively as a group.
Warinner said the linemen have improved because they have bought into a system that stresses fundamentals and the coaches didnt deviate from what they were teaching.
The second-year position coach also pointed to last years 28-3 win over then-No. 15 Utah as a turning point for the line. The Irish ran for 127 yards in the upset victory.
The things that we talk about every day in our room are the three Cs for the offensive linemen – character, consistency and competitive, Warinner said. I know we have guys with character in there that I can trust, being consistent and being competitive every play. Those are the benchmarks that we are trying to get. I think those are the things that are coming together.