The most important question facing the Irish is not “who will replace Manti Te’o?” Or “who will replace Tyler Eifert?” Clearly, as the 2013 Blue Gold game proved, the answer to either question is “Louis Nix, III.” In fact, as Tex established yesterday, Irish Chocolate may be our answer in short yardage situations on the offensive side of the football, too. Removing my tongue from my cheek, though, I would suggest to you, our loyal reader, that the most important question facing the Irish going into the Temple game is “who is going to replace Braxston Cave?” Well, loyal reader, the answer is “Nick Martin,” and if the Blue Gold game is any indication, and it is, the Irish are in good hands at center.
Braxston Cave was the anchor of a very good offensive line last season. A fifth year senior, Cave started all 13 games in 2012 and his line opened holes for a Notre Dame running attack that surpassed 200 yards in a game seven times. The challenge for Coach Harry Hiestand is to replace Cave while keeping the O-line out of the color commentary next season.
Nick Martin proved he is up to the task last Saturday. While the 2013 Blue Gold Game provided a lot of the usual “meh” moments to which we have all grown accustomed, it also showed us that the center position is not going to be a concern. Paired opposite Nix, Martin acquitted himself rather well and we can only expect more improvement as Martin faces the nation’s best nose-tackle day in and day out.
The first series, to be honest, was nothing to write home about. On first down, Martin and the left guard double-teamed Nix and Golson threw an incomplete. On second down, the Irish ran right, but I’m prrrrrrrrretty sure there was a holding that went uncalled. Third down saw another incomplete.
The second series, though, saw the line, and Martin, come to the fore, and good things start to happen. With Tommy Rees under center, the Irish ran up the middle for a couple of yards. On second down, Martin took Nix one-on-one and Rees completed a quick strike to Prosise for four yards. On third and four, the Irish ran left, the line did its job and George Atkinson, III, picked up the first down.
On first down, Martin and the rest of the line got beat by the blitzing OLB and a bll rush by Nix, but Rees read it right and unleashed a timing pass to TJ Jones. This will happen. In running through the game a few times since Saturday, I can’t help but note that our defense is pretty good. Aside from Nix, our O-line had to contend with Stephon Tuitt and Ishaq Williams, not to mention Kona Schwenke and Prince Shembo.
On third and seven of the same drive, with about 7:55 left in the First Quarter, the O-line, and Martin in particular, do a great job of reading the rush and give Tommy all the time he needed to throw what should have been an incomplete pass, but for the amazing one-hand grab by Cam McDaniel. On the subsequent first down, Martin moved Schwenke out of the way and GAIII filled the hole for a six yard gain. On second and four, Martin neutralized Nix and Tommy should have picked up a completion, if not a touchdown, to Davaris Daniel, but for an uncalled pass interference on Keivarae Russell. On third and four, though, Connor Hanratty (I think) flinched, and that was called. Suddenly it’s third and nine and ultimately the Irish settle for a missed field goal.
There’s a bit to critique in Martin’s game from Saturday. He got manhandled by Tyler Stockton at least once, but with 2:01 left in the Second Quarter, he straight dominated, and maybe held, Kona Schwenke, allowing Golson to complete long to Troy Niklas. Still, even though the refs weren’t calling much, I only counted one false start and two “sacks.”
Not bad for playing the best defense in the country.