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October 12, 2012

Proving ground

Braxston Cave watched from home. Christian Lombard watched from the sideline. Zack Martin watched from the middle of it all, regularly peeling quarterback Tommy Rees off the Stanford Stadium turf.

Regardless of the view, the perspective was the same.

Notre Dame's offensive line was bad against Stanford last year. Real bad.

"Since I've been playing, as a whole, as unit, that's been the toughest game," Martin said. "You just watch the film and on 40 or 50 percent of the plays you're just like, 'What are we doing out there?' Those are tough to watch. They're tough to be a part of."

They've been that way the last two years against Stanford. Under Brian Kelly the Irish have averaged 1.87 yards per carry against the Cardinal. They've allowed eight sacks. And they've been bludgeoned by a Stanford defense that's been described as just short of criminal.

Now Notre Dame gets another shot with another quarterback against another elite rush defense, albeit one that's allowed back-to-back 100-yard rushers to Washington and Arizona. Stanford still ranks sixth nationally in rush defense and fourth nationally in tackles for loss.

The Irish claim they're better prepared. They've logged the work to back that up.

Three times a week the line locks itself in a film room after practice for nearly two hours to review looks, talk out blocking assignments and basically guard itself against a repeat of Palo Alto. Aware that Stanford will break tendency and show new twists, fronts and stunts on Saturday, Notre Dame's line has been working to identify something it hasn't seen.

"We're spending a lot more time in the film room than we did in the past. I think guys are seeing more, getting more tips," Cave said. "I'm sure we'll see some stuff that we haven't seen on film. If we talk it out or the quarterback sees it, we're going to get ourselves into plays where we can make something happen."

The Stanford front seven represents the same challenge to Notre Dame's offensive line that Denard Robinson did to the Irish secondary. The Cardinal front isn't just an opponent, it's a tormenter.

Lombard said the line can't make this weekend into the "Super Bowl" but Martin admitted he wants this game maybe more than any other one on the schedule.

"This is kind of the game we want to come out and show what we can do," Martin said. "You gotta just look at them and match their intensity and their effort and their will. It's not that they're better than everyone, it's that they're out-working everyone. It's obvious to watch on film."

Notre Dame will have its line at full strength tomorrow, something it lacked last year when Mike Golic Jr. filled in for the injured Cave. Golic false started on Notre Dame's first attempted snap. Taylor Dever did the same on the second. The Irish finally got a play off on the third try, then outside linebacker Chase Thomas nearly split Rees in half.

That drive ended with negative seven yards.

"It was definitely hard to watch, I don't want to say shocking because our offensive line, we had a solid group last year, but it was hard to watch," Lombard said. "Guys who played last year have a chip on their shoulder going into this game. We're going to prepare like every game, but that chip on the shoulder is going to be there."





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