Overreactions: Notre Dame Defense Dominates Explosive UNC Offense, Book Outplays Howell

Notre Dame passed their last significant test of the regular season on Friday with flying colors. The Irish took out #19 North Carolina 31-17 with a dominating performance on the road. The Irish improved to 9-0 (8-0 in conference) and have the ACC Championship game squarely in their sight with the victory.

This was a statement game from the Notre Dame defense

North Carolina has one of the most explosive offenses in the country. Sam Howell is one of the best quarterbacks in college football. Most believe that North Carolina has the best running back duo in the ACC. The Tar Heels were averaging over 40 points a game heading into yesterday’s contest.

All Notre Dame did yesterday was hold the high-octane Tar Hell offense to 17 points. Held Howell in check with only 211 yards. And shut down the North Carolina rushing attack to the tune of 87 yards on 30 attempts. In total, North Carolina had just 298 yards total – their lowest output of the season. Oh, and the Irish defense sacked Howell six times on the afternoon.

North Carolina started fast with 14 points in the first 13 minutes of the game, but once the Notre Dame defense settled in, they completely dominated this game. After those first two drives, North Carolina’s only points came on a drive aided by a targeting call on 3rd and 20 that extended their drive.

This was a statement game by the Notre Dame defense.

Multiple players stood out on defense

Notre Dame was dominant throughout the game, but a few players specifically stood out.

  • Drew White – Was all over the field and got the game ball afterward for his 5 tackles, 2 TFL performance.
  • Ade Ogeundeji – Ade had one of his best games of the season with 2 sacks and constant pressure all game long.
  • Clarence Lewis – The frosh relieved Tariq Bracy after a rough start and plugged the holes in the secondary well. It looks like Lewis has a very bright future.
  • Marist Liufau – The BUCK position has had so many players stand out this year and this week was Liufau’s turn. He gave the defense a spark in the second quarter after the Irish settled in.

Ian Book was a damn magician

Going into the game, I thought Ian Book might have a quiet day because I expected Notre Dame to be able to run the ball better early on and rely on that rushing attack. Ian Book didn’t get that memo. Book once again made plays with his arm and his legs. He threw for 279 and ran for 49. He has run for 40 or more yards in seven straight games and has 412 yards rushing on the season.

Book made a few magical plays yesterday, but his day will be remembered for this one.

That is the kind of play you see either from a freshman running for his life or a very confident quarterback. Right now, Ian Book is a very confident quarterback.

While that play will get all the attention, his lone touchdown pass of the game might have been even more impressive. Zeke Correll made a bad snap that could have been disastrous, but Book stayed cool, picked the ball off the mat, and scrambled around long enough to find Kyren Williams for the score.

Javon McKinley continues to impress

Too many of us, myself included, wrote off Javon McKinley following a rough outing against Louisville. Since then, McKinley has come alive. He recorded his third 100+ yard game of the year with a career-high 135. McKinley has hauled in a combined 11 catches for 237 yards in Notre Dame’s two biggest games of the year – yesterday and against Clemson.

What was even more encouraging about McKinley’s performance is he made plays downfield and didn’t just feast on 50/50 balls. He had grabs of 43 and 51 yards to set up Notre Dame scores.

Notre Dame got Braden Lenzy back yesterday but in a minimal capacity. With what we’ve seen from McKinley and Bennett Skowronek, if Lenzy is ever able to be at full strength again this year, he will be even more useful.

The targeting call on Kyle Hamilton was legit

What made Notre Dame’s second-half dominance over the high-powered North Carolina offense even more impressive is that they did it without one of their best defenders. Hamilton was ejected in the second quarter for a legit targeting call.

On a 3rd and 20 completion that would have been well short, Hamilton came flying in for one of his signature hits. The problem was Hamilton made clear helmet to helmet contact to draw the flag. He went for the knock-out blow when it wasn’t needed. You don’t want to coach that type of intensity out of a player, but at the same time, you want to work with him on understanding situational defense there. The pass was well, well short of the first down. Just wrap up and move on.

The good news for Notre Dame here is Hamilton won’t miss any time next weekend the foul occurred in the first half.

ACC officials continue to be downright brutal

While the targeting call was very much legit, the ACC officials were brutal again. North Carolina did get flagged for nine penalties for 90 yards, but two very blatant missed calls stood out and could have impacted the outcome. North Carolina’s second touchdown was set up by a 51-yard completion by Sam Howell that was aided by a clear and blatant hold.

Hinish gets held by two players giving Howell enough time to make the pass. What’s crazy about that is Howel only had 211 yards on the day. If that clear hold gets called, he’d have only had 150.

This crew’s other brutal miss was the clear hit out of bounds on Ian Book in the 3rd quarter. Book scrambled out of bounds well short of a first down on a 3rd and long. Then he got hit three or four yards out of bounds by North Carolina without a flag. Forget that that should have given Notre Dame a first down. It’s a player safety issue. You can’t let hits out of bounds like that go uncalled on any player, let alone the starting quarterback.

The new-look offensive line has kinks to work out

Notre Dame had to start two new linemen yesterday after losing Jarrett Patterson for the season and Tommy Kraemer for a couple of weeks. As expected, there were some kinks. Sophomore Zeke Correll had some issues snapping the ball in his first career start though he did hold his own once the ball was snapped. Snapping the ball, however, is kind of a big deal for a center.

I wouldn’t get too concerned over it just yet since it was his first career start, but it’ll be something to watch over the next couple of weeks once they get Kraemer back. With Kraemer inserted back into the lineup at right guard, Notre Dame can start Josh Lugg, their utility knife lineman, at center; or even sliding over Robert Hainsey at center and plugging Lugg in at tackle.

If Correll struggles with snaps again before Kraemer is back, Notre Dame still has the option of moving Lugg to center and starting Dillan Gibbons at guard.

All that said, it wasn’t a terrible first start for Correll, and I expect to see him at center again next week in the home finale against Syracuse.

Running game came alive when it was needed

I thought Notre Dame would impose its will on North Carolina from the start of the game, but it took a while for that to happen. The Irish did end the day with 199 yards rushing, and Kyren Williams did end his day with 124, but a lot of that came on Notre Dame’s clock-draining, game-sealing touchdown drive at the end of the 4th quarter. Williams ripped off a 47-yarder to start the drive and then added runs of 3, 11, and 5 yards before scoring his third touchdown of the game from one yard out.

It took a little while, but when Notre Dame needed a drive to kill the clock, they got it. Notre Dame took over that drive from their own 11 with 5:40 left on the clock and a seven-point lead. They gave the ball back to North Carolina with 1:20 after extending that lead to 14 points and putting the game away.

Williams is now just 99 yards away from 1,000 on the season while scoring a total of 13 touchdowns (12 rushing, 1 receiving).

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  1. Good win and you are glad to have it.

    They do have work to do. The upside of this team I s incredible if they can hit on all cylinders. This is a nerve wracking season because this team is so good. You just wonder if they are holding back before the last couple of games or will they tune up arm the ACC championship game and then in the playoffs.

  2. Javon McKinley is reaching the same levels that Chase Claypool, Miles Boykin, Jeff Smardzija, Maurice Stovall, Will Fuller, and Golden Tate reached at ND. McKinley is the go to receiver on third downs and a deep threat. Plus he is an outstanding down the field blocker.

    The breakout game by Marist Liufau. He is going to be an exciting player to watch over the next few seasons.

  3. Time to give Clark Lea a big raise and contract extension. Maybe even name him assistant Head coach/DC. And eventual successor to BK. Defense is getting better and better.
    Kicking game sucked yesterday.
    Offense was good enough but think most of us expected more points on the board. Book running for his life most of the day.
    Overall good win.

  4. A friend of mine and I usually text back and forth during ND football games. Last night a number of times one of us texted something that ND “needed” to do to seize momentum and they nearly did at every point in the second half.

    This is clearly a different ND team then years past. They bring a confidence married to great talent that makes them a lot of fun to watch and tough to outplay for four quarters. Did I spend the first half a more nervous then I should? Yes. But when they tied it up going into the second half it was certainly different feeling then in years past.

    It is great to see Kelly’s demeanor on the sideline. It reminds me of watching Tom Coughlin grow into a championship coach by empowering his players more. Kelly has made some great adjustments over the past few years. Whatever the outcome this year he has clearly grown with this class over the past four years from a very solid to great coach.

    For all the harrumphing elsewhere about Our Lady’s coach and players I continually enjoy visiting this site to get level headed analysis. Thank you for running a great site. Onward to Victory!

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