After a single watch of the game, in real time, we were concerned Notre Dame's issue was the offensive line and their play against the Purdue Boilermakers. After a couple re-watches of the game, it is remarkably clear that the Fighting Irish's real issue is most certainly the play of the offensive line.
There was a little bit of everything from the big guys up front. At times, players got out-muscled; other times, Purdue's defensive line beat them with moves, and in the end, Purdue won that battle in the trenches.
The Irish escaped with a win, and while some folks want to talk about Tommy Rees' heroics or how Everett Golson must improve, the real focus going into Michigan State week has to be the offensive line. This is a group that was supposed to be the brightest of bright spots for the Fighting Irish. They went into Saturday's game, after dismantling an inferior Navy squad, and got beat up and down the field.
Sure, the Fighting Irish escaped with a win, but turn the game on, folks: Notre Dame's line got beat on Saturday. This is not just Kawann Short winning his one-on-one matchups; rather, it was Purdue's entire defensive line unit getting the better of Notre Dame's offensive line. In the run game, the Irish got beat at the point of attack. In the pass game, they got bullied into the quarterback and, at times, confused into errors as well.
The line got beat by bull rushes, gap shooting, slants, swim moves and rips. Going forward, if this Fighting Irish team is going to reach that potential that folks were hoping for, these are issues that have to be corrected. The good thing for Notre Dame is, they will get to work on fixing these problems while still staring at a 2-0 record instead of 1-1.
To the Irish's credit, they adapted their game plan well. They put the ball into the air and found a way to extend drives instead of being bogged down by their lack of run game. With Michigan State due up next, the Fighting Irish have to find a way to stay balanced. Purdue is a team that's dead set on using their front four to generate pressure and stop the run.
In the Spartans, this Notre Dame offensive line will face a different test: a team that wants to confuse Golson, bring pressure from depth and play on the Notre Dame side of the football where both the run and pass are concerned.
Despite last season's 31-13 final score, the Irish were held to their lowest yardage production of 2011 by Michigan State. To win the game on Saturday, they will need to find their running game. One big positive is the return of Cierre Wood; the Irish's stud running back who was suspended for the first two contests.
However, getting Wood back is only as great as the Irish offensive line can make it. With Michigan State's pressurized, attacking defense, if the holes are not there for Wood, then running the football will be as hard as it was against Purdue.