The effort took some extra time, but the Notre Dame Fighting Irish ended up improving their record to 3-0 with a 45-24 road win over the North Carolina State Wolfpack on Saturday. Rolling up 456 yards of total offense, the Irish managed to get past some shaky moments to remain in the hunt for a national title.
Winning in Raleigh required patience. That’s because, with just 15 seconds gone in the second quarter, the game was suspended for close to two hours due to weather conditions. The situation had some parallels to the last visit to Raleigh for the Irish in 2016, when hurricane-like conditions led to a sloppy loss for Notre Dame.
Below are some of the key aspects of the win:
Slow Going Early On
Unlike the ease with which Notre Dame dispatched its first two opponents, the Irish offense began the game virtually powerless. The team’s first two series netted a pair of three-and-outs that netted -11 yards. On their opening drive, Sam Hartman was sacked and fumbled, though the ball was recovered by Notre Dame guard Pat Coogan.
That frustration was eased by a strong early effort from the Irish defense, which forced a pair of three-and-outs that gained a mere four yards. Once play resumed, the Irish made an immediate statement on Audric Estime’s 80-yard touchdown run, part of a 134-yard afternoon that also included another score for the running back.
The potential danger posed by Armstrong’s passing ability was effectively negated by the Irish defense, with a major nod going to the team’s secondary. On three occasions, Notre Dame defensive backs picked off the Wolfpack signal-caller, with the latter two coming in North Carolina State territory and helping to set up crucial second-half scores.
Armstrong finished the day completing 22 of 47 pass attempts for 260 yards and two scoring tosses. Notre Dame defenders helped knock away some of those incompletions but he wasn’t helped by multiple drops from his intended targets. The quarterback’s notable running was also held in check when he was limited to just 26 yards on 12 carries.
Making a Mess
Mistake-free football is always the goal but seven penalties for 53 yards in just two quarters ruined that opportunity for the Irish. On one single drive in the second quarter, the Irish committed three penalties that gave their opponents 33 yards.and helped lead to the Wolfpack’s first score.
For the game, the Irish ended up getting flagged 10 times for 82 yards, a stat that Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman will no doubt harp on during the coming week. Some of the flags were especially needless, such as Benjamin Morrison’s unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after a Wolfpack reception. With each ensuing week, developing more discipline during game action becomes more vital.
Drawing the Line
Hartman had another impressive day, throwing for 286 yards and four touchdowns. However, unlike his past two efforts, this one was accomplished while dealing with a much more furious pass rush. On the day, he was sacked four times and fumbled twice, with the Irish losing possession in the latter instance.
During Hartman’s prior games against North Carolina State while he was at Wake Forest, he’d struggled to deliver on the field. That concern was noted in the buildup to this game and appeared to be taking shape in the opening period. In the end, that fear dissipated, though the offensive line will now be looking to bounce back in preparation for the stiff challenge against Ohio State on September 23.
Nothing Staes the Same
For the previous three seasons, the presence of Michael Mayer at tight end was one of the keys to the Notre Dame passing attack. In Saturday’s game, sophomore Holden Staes made his presence felt at the position by not only surpassing his career reception total with the Irish of two but also crossing the goal line twice.
Staes led all Notre Dame receivers with four grabs for 115 yards and provided more than half of his offense on one scoring drive. That came when he snagged a 28-yard pass from Hartman just past midfield. Just two plays later, he then caught what turned out to be a 40-yard catch-and-run for his first score of the day. His later tally on a 35-yard reception with 4:35 left in the contest closed out the scoring for the Irish.
Next Up for Notre Dame Football
Notre Dame returns home and once again will again be heavily favored against the Central Michigan Chippewas of the MAC. This will be another first-time matchup in Irish history and should follow a similar path to Notre Dame’s rout of Tennessee State. The Chippewas were taken to the limit at home against New Hampshire on Saturday, emerging with a 45-42 win. In their only other game on September 1, Central Michigan held tough during the first half against Michigan State but were outscored 21-0 after the break.