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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Answered Toughness Questions, Still Need Answers On OL

December 4, 2020

No. 2 Notre Dame controls its College Football Playoff fate as the Irish head into the final regular-season game against Syracuse on Saturday. 

It's quite the feat for any team to be in a position to make the playoff as 2020 has been anything but ordinary. Teams have not only had to win, but stay disciplined to keep their best players healthy and probably a little bit of luck.

Brian Kelly credits his players for staying disciplined and making sacrifices to be in the playoff hunt. He also believes the trials and tribulations of 2020 has led to his team being mentally tougher. 

"I think one of the things that you're able to build during this time that is so different than if we weren't experiencing this incredibly difficult in our country is the ability to put aside the distractions that you're facing on a day-to-day basis," explained Kelly. "They are confronted with the biggest distraction and that is you can get COVID and miss considerable playing time if you are not maintaining excellent habits. 

"You have to be on top of that 24-7. I don't get the luxury to control them 24-7 in most instances. As much as we would like to, we get them for a short period of time. Because of the climate we're in, they have to avoid these distractions that can cause them to potentially lose playing time. They're building strong habits that you're seeing play out on the football field." 

Syracuse enters this weekend’s at 1-9, but it's an important game for Notre Dame as they are searching for answers at center. 

Zeke Correll got his first start last weekend for the injured Jarrett Patterson, but he's been limited in practice this week. 

"I think the only guy that will be a game-time decision will be Zeke Correll," Kelly said. "He's been limited in practice. He'll go again today and we'll see how that looks. We'll make a decision on whether it's Zeke or Josh (Lugg) at the center position."

Lugg is a veteran with experience and started his first game of 2020 for right guard Tommy Kraemer a week ago, but he hasn't played center in a meaningful game.

If Correll can't go, Lugg will have a chance to earn the job for the rest of the year, but it would also mean Notre Dame would have to start its third different player at right guard this season. 

"If Zeke can't go, Josh will play the center position," Kelly stated. "Dillan Gibbons will play at the right guard position. If Zeke can go, obviously, Zeke at center and Josh at the right guard position."

The other downside if Correll can't go is Notre Dame would have a significant decision to make for the ACC Championship game. 

"The center position then becomes one where we'll have to evaluate Zeke and Josh at that position," said Kelly. "We'll have plenty of time to do that on the bye week and figure out what is our best five. That's a good luxury for us to have. I like those kinds of questions." 

The good news for the nation's top offensive line is Kraemer could play this weekend if needed and will be back for the ACC Championship Game after an emergency appendectomy a week before the North Carolina game.

"Kraemer has been practicing this week," explained Kelly. "There's no question at the right guard position and I think we all know that. Kraemer could potentially play this weekend if we had chosen that route. We have not. We're going to use him in an emergency situation. If there is an injury, he can go in and play."

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