Flexing their offensive muscles for the first time this season, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish gave new head coach Marcus Freeman his first winning streak with a 45-32 win over the North Carolina Tar Heels. Coming against a defensively-challenged team like the Tar Heels, the boost in production might have been expected but was welcome nonetheless.
Like their previous two games, the Irish struggled during the first quarter before finding their bearings and bringing home the win. They finished the victory with 576 yards of total offense and came close to providing perfect symmetry when it came to both the running and passing sides of the ball.
Below are some of the key aspects of the game.
Running Game Rediscovered
During the first three games of the 2022 season, the Notre Dame running game gained a total of 353 yards on just 3.3 yards per carry. Against North Carolina, the Irish collected 287 yards on the ground for an average of 5.6 yards per run, a marked improvement that hopefully continues over the remainder of the campaign.
The trio of Audric Estime, Chris Tyree and Logan Diggs amassed more than 90 percent of that yardage, with Estime leading the unit with 134 yards on 17 carries. Many of Estime’s carries simply saw him bulling through the weak Tar Heel defense, which allowed him to score twice. He came close to notching a third score in the fourth quarter. However, he fumbled just short of the goal line.
Second Quarter Explosion
A feeling of dread may have come over some of the Notre Dame faithful after the Irish were trailing 7-0 and had just 40 yards of offense after the first quarter ended. Yet, when the teams headed to halftime, Notre Dame had 301 yards on the offensive side and held a 24-14 advantage.
Delivering on the ground and through the air, the Irish set the tone for the period on the first play, when Drew Pyne hooked up with Logan Diggs. Michael Mayer then closed out the eight-play, 83-yard drive with a touchdown grab. Another scoring toss to Lorenzo Styles, a scoring run by Estime and a 40-yard field goal gave Note Dame the 10-point cushion at the break.
Following North Carolina’s opening series, in which quarterback Drake Maye played a part in 72 of the Tar Heels’ 76 yards on the drive, the Irish defense was mostly able to keep him in check for the rest of the game. That excludes two glaring errors that led to two touchdowns for the home team.
The first of these came in the third quarter when Antoine Green simply blew past Clarence Lewis and hauled in an 80-yard touchdown pass. Late in the fourth quarter, North Carolina faced fourth-and-21, but Green took advantage of a blown coverage on a 64-yard scoring pass.
(Finally Some) Luck of the Irish
After Notre Dame took the second-half kickoff, they needed just six plays to boost their lead to 31-14. The Irish then recovered a fumble by Maye on the first play of the subsequent drive. After a Mayer reception in the end zone was ruled out of bounds, a pass to Matt Salerno gave the Irish a first down at the Tar Heel two-yard-line.
It was at that point that the Irish success appeared to have died after three plays lost a yard. On fourth down, an incomplete pass to Chris Tyree temporarily gave the ball back to North Carolina. That was until the Tar Heels were flagged for pass interference–as well as unsportsmanlike conduct for their complaints over the call. Estime exploited the break and scored on the next play to make it 38-14.
Final Quarter Sloppiness
Both teams, especially Notre Dame, had mostly avoided being penalized during the first three quarters by getting flagged a total of five times. That changed drastically in the final period when nine penalties were assessed among both teams, including three during the Irish’s last scoring drive. That was when the frustration of the Tar Heels manifested itself in two unsportsmanlike calls and a defensive holding flag.
Notre Dame’s lone penalty in the first 45 minutes was a false start, but the Irish weren’t immune to penalizing errors in that final quarter. On one North Carolina scoring drive, they were flagged three times. The most notable of these was a targeting call on J.D. Bertrand, who missed the first half because of a targeting call last week. Thus, he’ll miss the first half of the BYU contest on Oct. 8.
Notre Dame has two weeks to rest up for their next battle, which will take place at Allegiant Stadium in Las Vegas. The opponent for that Shamrock Series matchup will be the BYU Cougars who have a 2-1 record entering Saturday night’s home game against Wyoming. That’s followed by a Thursday night home contest against Utah State. The Cougar defense does have holes in, with Oregon collecting 439 yards of offense in their 41-20 on Sept. 17.