SOUTH BEND – One of the great constants of Notre Dame football over the last generation has been their ability to produce quality offense lines, and that was no different in 2020.
That’s when three of their starters – guard Aaron Banks, tackles Liam Eichenberg and Robert Hainsey – were taken in the NFL Draft in April. Tommy Kraemer would late sign with the Lions, leaving the 2021 team with just one returning starter – Jarrett Patterson – who will move from guard to center.
While the line will need time to build chemistry with new starting tackles Josh Lugg & Blake Fisher along with guards Cain Madden & Zeke Cornell, the players who’ll be running behind them will be ready to go.
Led by Kyren Williams, Chris Tyree, and C’Bo Flemister, the Irish have an experienced backfield that still has room to grow as the 2020 season approaches. They’ll help to “carry” the offense as the group gets used to a new offensive line along with new quarterback Jack Coan, who joined the Irish for his graduate year after four seasons at Wisconsin.
Williams is already on the Doak Walker Award watch list for the 2021 campaign as he along with Tyree enter just their second year with major action for the Irish. Last year the group averaged 211.1 yards rushing per team, 24th in all of Division 1 football, with their five yards per carry average also ranking 24th.
“The running game can be different and I think it can be extremely effective and efficient,” said Kelly of the Irish rushing attack. “You start with personnel; we’re getting much more comfortable with the personnel upfront on the offensive line. We lost some really good players but I think we’re getting to the point where we’re feeling more comfortable with how that group is working together.
“We’ve been very careful not to do too much but yet have a great library of answers to what defenses may do. So that efficiency in terms of selection of plays, have been repped, and repped, and repped. The maturity of the two backs, the two veterans, and I say veterans, I use that word loosely. They’re still young – Kyren and Chris. C’Bo is an outstanding back who is in a crowded room, but he’s demanded carries by his play.”
Starting out it will be Williams who sees the majority of the carries after an outstanding sophomore season in 2020 where he led Notre Dame in rushing for 1,116 yards (5.3 per carry average) with 13 touchdown on his way to being named ACC Rookie of the Year. Tyree averaged 6.8 yards per carry on 73 carries (496 yards) along with four touchdowns.
Flemister had 508 yards on 58 carries (5.2 pre carry average) with five touchdowns of his own.
They’ll get behind the new offensive line for the first time on Sunday as the ninth-ranked Irish travel to Florida State for a 6:30 PM kickoff to begin the 2021 season.
Larry Hawley had more on the Irish on WGN News Now as part of his college football previews this week, and you can watch the story in the video above.