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).