Throughout the season, Notre Dame’s defense has drawn headlines for the way the Pios have suffocated opposing offenses and subdued them into submission.
But Notre Dame’s defense isn’t the only physically dominating unit on the team for the Pios.
Notre Dame’s running game has utilized a revolving cast of characters to carry the rock and wear opponents out.
Lance Bertrand, Sam Hoffpauir, Justin Guidry, Joe Faulk, Gabe Petry, Colin Kirsch just to name a few have all carried the ball in key situations for the Pios this season, but one name or names have remained constant.
The Pios have rushed for 3,057 yards this season, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, 43 touchdowns and 255 yards per game.
Notre Dame’s offensive line has consistently dominated the opposition at the point of attack all season and opened up running lanes for the Pios’ stable of running backs.
“I honestly do feel like they are a little underrated,” said Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook. “I think from one end to the other, going across, this has probably been one of the most consistent and they for sure have the best chemistry of any line I’ve had.”
Cook said the coaches could see how good the unit’s chemistry was this week in practice, when one of the members was forced to miss a few practices due to injury.
“They really all work together and you could see it this week in practice,” Cook said. “Doug Leonard, who is our weak side guard, his shoulder was bothering him some so we held him out of some practices and you could notice the difference with just one guy missing.
“It just wasn’t the same, it just didn’t click how it usually does.”
The Pios don’t’ have that prototypically dominant rusher like a Ty’Von Griffin from Crowley, with no single rusher exceeding 1,000 yards this season.
But they have a couple of different runners with 400 yards and more than three touchdowns, as it hasn’t really mattered who is running behind the offensive line.
Cook said the Pios rushed for 300 yards against a good St. Thomas Aquinas defense without any one individual performance standing out.
This was against a Falcons team that sports one of the best high school defensive linemen in the nation in four-star defensive tackle Edwin Alexander who is committed to LSU.
Cook said one of the things that makes the Pios’ offensive line stand out is how intelligent the group is, calling them from top-to-bottom one of the smartest units on the field.
“Those six guys, if you go just go by the ACT scores, they are the smartest guys on the field,” Cook said. “They’re a sharp group of kids.”
Cook said the intelligence combined with the on-field chemistry helps make up for some of the relative lack of size the Pios have, with the offensive line averaging around 240 pounds.
“I tell them all the time, a defensive lineman can misalign or step the wrong way or something like that a linebacker can fill into the hole and make the tackle,” Cook said. “If an offensive linemen does that we’re getting stopped in the backfield. They all have to be clicking.
“You can have ten guys do it perfect, but if one offensive line doesn’t you can get stopped.”
Cook said the Pios’ offensive linemen have been easy to teach throughout the season, whether it be technique or scheme and excelled in summer workouts learning the offensive.
“I can remember the first couple days of August practice and we zipped through the running game,” Cook said. “I kept thinking how nice it was to not have to stop and tell somebody what to do.”