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Correll, Lugg to fill holes along Notre Dame offensive line

Josh Lugg

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 23: Josh Lugg #75 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish blocks during a game against the Boston College Eagles at Notre Dame Stadium on November 23, 2019 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Boston College 40-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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If Notre Dame was debating who would step in at center for injured junior Jarrett Patterson, losing fifth-year right guard Tommy Kraemer for a few weeks may have brought some clarity.

The left foot injury Patterson played through for much of the victory at Boston College will sideline him for the season, but Kraemer’s appendectomy should allow him to return in a few weeks, no later than the ACC title game on Dec. 19.

Until then, the No. 2 Irish (8-0, 7-0 ACC) will turn to sophomore Zeke Correll at center and senior Josh Lugg (pictured at top) at right guard. The rest of the starting line will remain unchanged: fifth-year left tackle Liam Eichenberg, senior left guard Aaron Banks and senior right tackle Robert Hainsey bringing stability.

Correll has appeared in only one game in his career, mop-up duty against South Florida early this season, but he earned rave reviews with his scout team work in 2019, working against defensive tackles Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish, a start boosted by his early enrollment. The former consensus four-star recruit has now completed four academic semesters and been in a collegiate strength and conditioning program for 22 months.

“We have a great deal of confidence in Zeke,” head coach Brian Kelly said Monday. "... We’ve been waiting for him to get his opportunity and he’s been waiting, more importantly.”

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Comparatively, Lugg is a seasoned veteran, which is why there was speculation he may step in at center rather than Correll before word leaked of Kraemer’s surgery. Lugg started five games at right tackle in 2019 when Hainsey broke his ankle and has played in six games this season. His nearly 6-foot-7 frame gives him extensive reach for an interior lineman. Up until this point, Lugg has served as Notre Dame’s offensive line utility knife, which should help the overall chemistry during his time filling in for Kraemer.

These changes were included in an updated depth chart the same morning as the Irish offensive line was named to the Joe Moore Award midseason honor roll, somewhat officially recognizing the veracity of the unit.

On an offense rushing for 241.25 yards per game and 5.58 yards per carry (sacks adjusted), that blocking cohesiveness is vital. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has called for the run on 59.4 percent of Notre Dame snaps in 2020, up from Chip Long’s 51.21 percent last regular season. Among teams having played at least three games, the Irish rank No. 12 in rushing yards per game and No. 22 in yards per carry.

In theory, adding a mauler in Correll and length in Lugg should keep those trends going, but there could of course be an adjustment curve stepping into an offensive line that has remained constant for much of the last two seasons.

No. 25 North Carolina (Friday, 3:30 ET, ABC) gives up 151.9 rushing yards per game, No. 53 in the country among teams to have played at least three games, numbers deflated by opening the season against the anemic offenses of Syracuse and Boston College. Remove those two games (and their total of 108 yards) from the Tar Heels’ ledgers, and they give up 184.5 rushing yards per game and 4.6 yards per attempt, not to mention 16 touchdowns.

When Kraemer returns, expect Correll to remain at center despite the previous Lugg pondering. That could come at Wake Forest on Dec. 12, based on Kelly’s timeline. The emergency appendectomy was caught before a rupture — “Dodged a bullet there.” — which means Kraemer could be back involved in football-related activities next week.

Come 2021, it is increasingly likely Patterson kicks out to one of the tackle positions, for which he was originally recruited, and Correll takes over the pivot duties, for which he was recruited. While the Irish make it a priority to have the five best offensive linemen on the field and adapt to positions accordingly, that all obviously becomes much easier when long-term projections match season-by-season needs. That alignment will have to wait until next fall, though, as the typical recovery from a Lisfranc injury is at least six months, at best greatly cutting into Patterson’s workload in the spring.

“Disappointed for [Patterson],” Kelly said. “He was having a great season.”

Though subbing in Correll and Lugg may not set Notre Dame back too much, any more injuries along the line likely would, simply by occupying the proverbial utility knife. The Irish have remaining reserves ready for a half or even three quarters of action — former walk-on center Colin Grunhard, senior guard Dillan Gibbons and sophomore tackle Andrew Kristofic at the top of the list — but Lugg and Correll are the extent of second-stringers ready for multiple games of action.

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