Notre Dame took care of business on Friday with a 31-17 win over #19 North Carolina to keep their perfect regular season alive. The Irish took a couple of punches early from the Tar Heels, but the defense eventually took over and the Irish enhanced their Playoff resume with a double-digit win on the road against a ranked opponent. It wasn’t perfect and at times it wasn’t pretty, but there still was a lot to like.
A clean game from Notre Dame
After some fumbling problems against Boston College, Notre Dame did not turn the ball over once against North Carolina. In the process, Book set the Notre Dame record for consecutive passes without an interception. His current streak sits at 234, with two games remaining in the regular season.
There were still some silly penalties by the Irish, including a costly targeting on Kyle Hamilton, but for the most part, the penalties weren’t awful. Notre Dame had just four penalties for 24 yards on the day.
After losing two starters on the offensive line during the bye week, it was great to see the Irish escape Chapel Hill relatively unscathed. We didn’t see C’bo Flemister in the ground game, so his injury looks like it could be lingering, but again no new significant injuries for the Irish.
Part of the reason Notre Dame is so good this year is the fact that they play smart and don’t hurt themselves. They protect the football and don’t commit dumb penalties – like some of the ones we saw UNC commit. That was on full display Friday.
Notre Dame’s defense responding after the Kyle Hamilton ejection
The situation looked a bit dire when Kyle Hamilton was ejected for targeting in the 2nd quarter. Notre Dame’s other safeties didn’t instill a ton of confidence to that point. Shaun Crawford had an uncharacteristically rough start to the game with some bad angles and tackling, and we haven’t seen much of Houston Griffith this year.
After North Carolina connected on a field goal on the drive that Hamilton was tossed during, they did not score a single point the rest of the game.
The ESPN crew kept telling us how good North Carolina was in the 4th quarter and how they’ve owned that quarter this year. Well, on Friday, Notre Dame owned them. Here are the drives that North Carolina had in the 4th quarter.
- 3 plays, 7 yards
- 7 plays, 9 yards
- 4 plays, 4 yards
Their 3rd quarter drives weren’t any better.
- 4 plays, 11 yards
- 3 plays, 5 yards
- 4 plays, 22 yards
If Notre Dame is somehow lucky enough to keep Clark Lea around for another year before he deservedly gets a head coaching opportunity, give that man a big raise.
Brian Kelly getting snarky in his post-game comments
After beating Boston College two weeks ago, Brian Kelly started politicking in his post-game comments about how Notre Dame had already played a Big Ten schedule and had three more games to go – laying the foundation for an argument for the Irish to make the playoffs even if they were to lose the ACC Championship game.
Kelly wasn’t on the campaign trail this week, but he was snarky in his comments while defending Ian Book. Kelly reference a USA Today writer, who he said shouldn’t be writing about college football (God help me if he ever reads my stuff) who didn’t list Ian Book as one of the top 10 quarterbacks in college football.
Kelly has been defending Ian Book for years, with his arguments usually based on Book being a winner. Over the last few weeks, Book has given Kelly a whole lot of new ammunition in his arguments by becoming a playmaker instead of a game-manager.
Snarky, vengeful Brian Kelly is really fun to watch when Notre Dame’s winning. When they aren’t, and he’s snarky – ala 2016 – not so much. For now, though, I’m here for all of the Brian Kelly post-game snark.
Notre Dame’s pass rush coming alive
Notre Dame was able to keep North Carolin in check because of its pass rush. Even as the Tar Heels were marching up and down the field on their first two drives, the pass rush was alive. It just wasn’t quite getting home. Eventually, it got home. And it made life miserable for North Carolina’s Sam Howell. The Irish pass rush tallied six sacks on the day, and it could have been more.
The pass rush has been up and down at times this year, but Saturday, it was up. Very up. Ade Ogundeji had his best outing of the season with 2.0 sacks. Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademilola each had 1.0 apiece. Rylie Mills, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Drew White, and Marist Liufau each chipped in 0.5.
And they could have had more. Notre Dame missed a couple of sacks early on, or their total would have been even more impressive. As a team, Notre Dame now has 27 sacks on the season (3.0 sacks a game). That puts them ahead of their 2019 pace when they averaged 2.61 a game.
Some clutch punts from Jay Bramblett early
Notre Dame’s offense had an up and down effort on Friday. At times they moved the ball with ease. Other times, the Irish offense was frustratingly inefficient. Early on, with the game knotted at 14 and the Irish offense stalling, Jay Bramblett came up with two huge back-to-back punts that pinned the Tar Heels at their own three-yard line.
When Bramblett hit both punts, the game was still very much in doubt, and the defense was just starting to settle in. Pinning the North Carolina offense so deep helped, in part, to get the defense settled and the Tar Heel offense off their game.
Bramblett would later add a short punt at an inopportune time in the fourth quarter, but the rest of his day was impressive. He averaged 43.0 yards a kick with a long with 57 and those two kicks inside the UNC 20 yard line.