SOUTH BEND – The Notre Dame offensive line has been a work in progress all offseason as it tries to replace not only two All-Americans in Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey, but also veteran position coach Harry Hiestand, who was widely considered one of the best offensive line coaches in college football.
As it happened, the Irish's first opponent, Michigan, had one of the best defensive lines in the country, so new starters Liam Eichenberg at left tackle and Robert Hainsey at right tackle had no time to ease into their new roles.
Michigan defensive ends Chase Winovich and Rashan Gary combined for four tackles for loss, but the revamped offensive line was otherwise solid and gave quarterback Brandon Wimbush time to throw or scramble on most plays. Coach Brian Kelly came away impressed with the new-look unit in Saturday's 24-17 victory.
“I was really pleased,” Kelly said. “They handled a lot of junk up front, a lot of things we had not seen before. That's what happens in an opener, you have all seven months to come up with stuff.
“(Michigan's) Don Brown is a good defensive coordinator. They brought a lot of stuff we hadn't seen. Those guys had to sort stuff out. They did a really good job.”
In speaking about the line immediately after the game, Kelly praised new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn, who is in his fourth year with the Irish, but his first as the line coach after Hiestand departed to coach the Chicago Bears' offensive line. Quinn is integral to the line's flexibility, according to Kelly.
“I think we have got one of the best offensive line coaches in the country,” Kelly said. “I think Jeff Quinn does a great job of communicating. He sorts out things for those guys on the sideline. He's making adjustments and those kids really know what to do and how to do it.
“It's one thing to prepare for those guys, but let me tell you, when the game starts, it's coming from everywhere, and he's able to help them and sort things out. They are a really good group that can kind of run on the fly.”
The Irish spent the week leading up to the game insisting they were focused on making sure they executed their own game plan and they were trying to block out all of the talk concerning the elite talent on Michigan's defense. After the game, however, senior guard Alex Bars, who is a team captain, admitted that the offensive line embraced the opportunity of facing such a gifted opponent in Week 1.
“We definitely took it as a challenge upon ourselves to block them, great edge rushers, great interior linemen,” said Bars, whose older brother played for Michigan from 2012 to '16. “For us to do what we did tonight, it's good. We still have so much to improve, so we'll get back and we'll work on that.”
Wimbush threw for 170 yards and ran for another 59 behind the new line. He was sacked twice but also had a sizable pocket from which to throw on most plays and was able to complete a handful of long passes because the line gave him time to let the receivers run open.
Now that the line has performed in a game without Nelson and McGlinchey, Wimbush hopes he doesn't have to field further questions about how the offense can survive without them.
“Hopefully we can move on from (talking about) those two guys after this one, because those guys did a great job up front,” Wimbush said. “Our offensive line did an excellent job of holding their own and giving me time back there to do what I need to do to get things done. Big shout out to those guys.”
Note: Notre Dame defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa has a broken foot and will have surgery today, Kelly announced Sunday. He's expected to miss about 10 weeks but could return at the end of the season. Tagovailoa-Amosa, a sophomore had 13 tackles, including two for loss last season.