There’s always going to be a lot to like in a win like Notre Dame’s 45-32 road victory over North Carolina, and this one was no different. Notre Dame’s offense woke up and had North Carolina’s defense on its heels for most of the afternoon while racking up over 500 yards of offense and coming up inches short of topping 50 points.
Audric Estime, human bowling ball
When Notre Dame landed Audric Estime in December 2020 after he decommitted from Michigan State, Notre Dame fans envisioned him being used in a game like this where Notre Dame builds a lead and pummels the opponent with a power running game. That is precisely what the Irish did with Estime in the second half. At times in the 4th quarter, Estime was just running right up the gut for 7-8 yards a pop and moving piles of defenders after contact. It was a thing of beauty.
Sure, it would have been even sweeter if Estime’s last carry didn’t pop out of his hands inches from the goalline as he stretched the ball out trying to score for a third time, but outside of that, it would have been a near-perfect performance from the sophomore back. Estime ran 17 times for 134 yards with two scores. He was also fantastic in blitz pickup – something we saw last week as well. Estime will learn from the fumble, and it’s always easier to learn from a mistake following a win.
With Estime as the battering ram, Chris Tyree as the speed back, and Diggs serving as a receiving and running threat, the Notre Dame offensive identity that we all thought the Irish would have from day one is finally starting to take shape.
Tommy Rees play calling
I wasn’t overly pleased with Tommy Rees after the first two drives considering the Irish went three and then missed a field goal after starting in plus territory on the second against perhaps the worst defense they will face all year. Rees didn’t get Pyne’s first two attempts batted down at the line, but he did call plays that kept Pyne in the pocket early instead of getting him on the move where he seems more comfortable.
After those first two drives, Tommy Rees put on a clinic against Gene Chizik’s defense. Rees had Carolina on their heels by mixing the run and the pass well while using Michael Mayer as a decoy at times to clear space. The playaction touchdown to Lorenzo Styles was set up beautifully and faked everyone out, including the ESPN cameramen. The touchdown to Diggs was a brilliant design and call for the easiest touchdowns either Pyne or Diggs will ever have.
Rees got into a zone in the second quarter and didn’t come out of it. The only thing that stopped Rees’s offense in the second half was the Estime fumble once the outcome was decided. If Rees can draw up more gameplans like this one, the Irish will win a lot of games over the next eight weeks.
Blitzing JD Bertrand on his first play of the 2nd half
How do you get a player right into a game after they sat out the first half because of a targeting the week before? Send them on a blitz. That’s what Al Golden drew up for JD Bertrand on the first defensive play of the second half, and not only did it get him right in the game, it netted Notre Dame their first turnover of the season.
Golden sending Bertrand was a perfect way to jump-start Bertrand after sitting on the sidelines and provided a spark for the entire team. Unfortunately, he may need a similar call in two weeks since Bertrand was flagged for another targeting in the 4th quarter this week, though this week’s was an awful call and even worse upholding by the replay booth.
Regardless, I loved Golden getting Bertrand involved immediately and manufacturing a turnover. Notre Dame needs more turnovers over the final eight games in general. Sometimes they come in bunches. Hopefully, one of those bunches comes in two weeks versus BYU.
Drew Pyne building on his 2nd half vs. Cal
After the rough start Drew Pyne had against Cal, Tommy Rees scaled everything back so much for him he barely threw the ball past the line of scrimmage the rest of the game. Rees opened things up a bit more for Pyne, and he responded with a dynamite performance. Pyne completed 24 of 34 passes for 289 yards and 3 touchdowns without turning over the ball once.
Pyne still didn’t push the ball downfield all that much, but he worked the middle of the field enough to punish a North Carolina defense that was on its heels. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but it was night and day from the quarterback we all saw stumble through the first quarter of the Cal game.
One great game against a wretched defense doesn’t mean that Pyne will suddenly be an All-American overnight, but it showed that Pyne has the talent to guide this team to a lot of wins this year. Pyne has eight more regular season starts ahead of him to show what he is capable of, but he already showed us a lot just by bouncing back the way he did.
Only needing Jon Sot once
The last few weeks, I’ve had to list the performance of Notre Dame punter Jon Sot as one of the five things I liked best from each game. Sot was a weapon for Notre Dame in the loss to Marshall and the win over Cal. However, he was barely needed against North Carolina. Sot punted once for 54 yards and pinned North Carolina inside the 20.
Sot punted eight times against Ohio State, four against Marshall, and seven against Cal. That’s 19 punts in three games. He was averaging more than six kicks a game. Sot’s easy day was possible because of the efficiency of the offense throughout the game. Notre Dame was a very efficient 8 of 14 on 3rd down against North Carolina after struggling on third downs in each of the first three weeks of the season.
- Week 1 @ Ohio State: 3 of 13
- Week 2 vs. Marshall: 4 of 13
- Week 3 vs. Cal: 3 of 12
Notre Dame had 10 third down conversions all season long in 38 attempts. They almost had that many in one afternoon at the office against North Carolina.
It is damn nice not to have to talk about booming punts as a bright spot this week.