Our position preview for 2012 moves from special teams to the big uglies. As I’m a firm believer that championship teams are built from a foundation in the trenches and then outward, I was more than happy to take on this assignment.
This week, we look at the offensive line. Off all positions to evaluate, these are by far the most subjective as the only stats usually available for evaluation are of their mistakes. Despite that though, I feel rather confident that I’ve singled out the best on the Irish and the best that we will face.
Year: 5th Year
Height/Weight: 6’3″/304 lbs.
For me, the pick for the Irish was easy. Usually a center wouldn’t be considered the cornerstone of an offensive line, but Braxston Cave fits the bill.
Look no further than Cave’s injury last season and the resulting struggles in the Irish offense for just how important he is to this team. After Wake Forest, the Irish went against two awful defenses (Maryland and Boston College) and two solid defenses (Stanford and Florida State) and saw dramatic drops in all offensive stats, with the running game seeing the most dramatic drop.
|Passing Yards/Game||Rushing Yards/Game||Total Yards/Game|
|Before Cave Injury||254.8||173.6||428.3|
|After Cave Injury||247.7||130.7||378.5|
While I’m definitely not a huge fan of comparing two different sample sizes, the difference is striking, especially considering that the Irish were able to beat up on Maryland. In that game, the Irish amassed over 500 yards, with nearly 300 through the air and over 200 on the ground. Rushing averages per carry proved even more pathetic: 1.8 yards/carry against Stanford and 2.7 yards/carry against Florida State–the lowest since Southern Cal which saw 2.9 yards/carry. Even more striking, the Irish ran 31 and 35 times against Standford and FSU respectively, while the Irish only ran 14 times against the Trojans.
In seeing these offensive struggles, it is no surprise that Cave is on the watch list for the Outland Trophy (best interior linemen) and the Rimington Trophy (best center). The 5th year center could have very likely been NFL-bound after last season if not for his unfortunate injury. The Irish will benefit from the most experienced lineman returning and Cave should be able to push his draft stock even higher.
Year: Senior (RS)
Height/Weight: 6’4″/305 lbs.
Holmes finds himself on the Rimington and Outland watch lists along with Cave and is also an Academic All-American candidate. Phil Steele has him listed as a 2nd-team All American, 1st-team Pac-12, and the second best draft eligible center in the nation behind Alabama’s Barrett Jones.
Last season, Holmes slid over from his position at guard to center and excelled. At the end of the 2011 campaign, Holmes earned 2nd-team All Pac-12 honors as he helped anchor a line that ranked 2nd in the nation in sacks allowed. This season, Holmes returns as the most experienced member of an offensive line that returns all its starters from last season.