Blue and Gold Illustrated

March 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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72 MARCH 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI T he 2019 football season saw the Notre Dame football program maintain the status quo. Depending on whether one's glass is half full or half empty, it could be viewed from different perspectives. The plus is the level of consistency achieved since 2017: • Winning 18 consecutive home games, the third-longest streak since the opening of Notre Dame Stadium in 1930. • Recording 24 consecutive victories versus unranked opponents, a string topped currently only by Alabama. • A 33-6 record in those three sea- sons, highlighted by the 2018 College Football Playoff. It is the fifth-best win- ning percentage among the 65 Power Five teams. Still looming as the negative is the inability to break through with needle- moving victories that elevate Notre Dame beyond the top-seven to top-15 stature that it currently shares with nu- merous other schools such as Oregon, Florida, Penn State, Michigan, Auburn, Wisconsin, Texas and others who have their moments (Baylor in 2019, Wash- ington and Washington State in 2018, TCU and Michigan State in 2017, etc.). After a mostly middling era since 1994, the Fighting Irish have evolved into a much more consistent program since 2017 — but have not truly neared the standard where in the 75 seasons from 1919-93 it was credited with 13 national titles, or one per every five to six years. One example is trying to compare the 33-6 mark from 2017-19 with the other time Notre Dame won 33 games over three years — 33-4 from 1988-90. Back then, the Fighting Irish re- corded an astounding 10 victories against teams that finished in the As- sociated Press top 10. Conversely, the 2017-19 Notre Dame units have zero such conquests. The lone 2019 victory versus a team that finished ranked was versus No. 20 Navy, a valiant unit that was out- matched in overall football skill level. This is not to mitigate the fine achievements since 2017, but to bring to light just how much consistent ex- cellence and dominance is required to elevate to the first tier. Reigning national champ LSU posted five such top-10 wins this year versus the teams that finished Nos. 2, 3, 4, 6 and 8 in the AP poll, and have had seven overall the past three seasons. Here are five topics that will be heavily delved into during the coming months that will shape 2020: OFFENSIVE LINE/JEFF QUINN This year Notre Dame is returning 114 career starts along the offensive line, which by our research is a school record (the 2009 unit in head coach Charlie Weis' final season had 100). As a pass-blocking unit in 2019 it was graded No. 2 in efficiency by Pro Football Focus, and the Irish return four players up front who rank among PFF's top 30 for 2020, the most among any school. Yet third-year offensive line coach Quinn is often the lightning rod of vit- riol for the line's lack of physicality in the run game or in lack of certain technical aspects. From our review, the Fighting Irish converted only 24 of 52 (46.2 percent) chances they had on third-and-three or less: • 21 of 32 on third-and-one for 65.6 percent. • 2 of 10 on third-and-two for 20.0 percent. • 1 of 10 on third-and-three for 10.0 percent. The Fighting Irish return 114 career starts along the offensive line in 2020, with four players who are ranked among Pro Football Focus' top 30 in that position group heading into the spring. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS 2020 VISION Storylines that will define the next football season

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