As the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (5-0, Ind.) prepare for this weekend’s road trip to face the Virginia Tech Hokies (3-1, 2-0 ACC), they do so without a core member of their team. Fifth-year senior and offensive lineman Alex Bars will miss the remainder of the 2018 season with a knee injury. According to head coach Brian Kelly, Bars -a graduate student- sustained a “significant” injury to both the ACL and MCL in his left knee in last week’s win over Stanford. Bars, a team captain, chose to stay for a fifth season this year as opposed to entering the NFL Draft. He decided to come back to South Bend for one more year in the hopes of getting the Fighting Irish to it’s first-ever College Football Playoff appearance.
Bars was yet another outstanding player for one of the best offensive lines in all of college football. He was expected to be the latest in a string of recent top offensive line NFL Draft selections for the Irish. This year he had been the starting left guard but he could just about every position along the line. His experience, leadership, and work ethic will be nearly impossible to replace. This is the first significant injury for the 6th ranked Fighting Irish in 2018.
Bars’ efforts contributed to a unit that paved the way for an Irish offense that has improved tremendously from last year. Notre Dame’s offensive line this year has allowed this team to accumulate 1,205 passing yards, 1,007 rushing yards, 21 total touchdowns, and score 164 points in five games. After allowing six sacks during the team’s first two games, the o-line cleaned things up and didn’t allow a single sack against Vanderbilt, and only two against Stanford. With Bars out of the lineup now, there’s concern as to how Notre Dame can keep these efforts up. Virgina Tech’s defense has 12 sacks so far this season.
Senior Trevor Ruhland and sophomore Aaron Banks will get the chance to take over Bars’ responsibilities starting this week. While both men have gotten their fair share of reps in practice, they have yet to play in a game for coach Kelly. Ruhland is a native of Cary, Illinois and is listed at 6-foot-4 and 295 pounds. Banks on the other land is listed at 6-foot-6, and 319 pounds. Banks is built more like a tackle than a guard and hails from Alameda, California.
VA Tech is probably the toughest game the Irish have left on their schedule. After this game Notre Dame returns home to play a struggling Pittsburgh team (Oct. 13) before going on their bye week. Upon returning from their bye they’ll travel to San Diego (Oct. 27) to take on Navy and their triple-option offense as they’ve split the last two meetings with the Midshipmen. As the calendar turns to November the Irish will come to Evanston (Nov. 3) to play a lackluster Northwestern team for the first time since 2014, then they’ll wrap up their home schedule by taking on a Florida State team (Nov. 10) that hasn’t lived up to the hype. They’ll finish the season by going to New York City to play Syracuse (Nov. 17th) followed by their bi-annual trip to Los Angeles (Nov. 24) to take on an up and down Southern California squad.
So when all is said and done, losing Bars may not hurt this team as bad as some may think.