For the fourth time in six years, Notre Dame enters November in the National Championship conversation after the Irish put forth another dominating performance Saturday by defeating No. 14 N.C. State 35-14. The win marked the first time since 1989 that Notre Dame defeated top-15 teams in back-to-back weeks.
Although the final score was lopsided, the victory was not without some early adversity. The Irish faced their largest deficit of the season after N.C. State blocked a Notre Dame punt in the endzone in the first quarter. After the Irish answered with a two-play scoring drive, the Wolfpack retook the lead on a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kelvin Harmon.
The Notre Dame offense was undaunted as they finished the half with a pair of touchdowns of their own to take a 21-14 halftime lead. N.C. State received the second half kickoff and drove into Notre Dame territory before Julian Love intercepted Finley and returned the ball 69-yards for a touchdown.
The play was disjointed from the start as Wolfpack center Garrett Bradbury snapped the ball thinking Notre Dame has jumped offsides. Finley threw the ball up assuming he had a free play, but no flags were thrown and the Irish took a 28-14 lead.
N.C. State mounted what turned out to be their last threat as the Wolfpack advanced the ball to the Notre Dame six-yard line where they faced a 4th & 1. Coach Dave Doeren decided to go for it, but Wolfpack running back Reggie Gallaspy was met in the hole by Te’Von Coney and stopped short.
After Notre Dame’s fourth down stop, the Irish defense held the Wolfpack to 15 yards on 13 offensive plays for the remainder of the game.
On the ensuing drive, the Irish put the game out of reach when Josh Adams galloped 77-yards to increase the Notre Dame lead to 35-14. The junior finished with 202 yards and one touchdown on a career-high 27 carries.
The Irish finished with 318 total rushing yards against the No. 6 rushing defense in the country.
Coming into Saturday’s contest, Ryan Finley was one of the most efficient passers in the country and N.C. State represented the best offense the Irish had faced this season.
Most of Finley’s efficiency numbers come from the fact that the Wolfpack focus on the short passing game and getting the ball out of Finley’s hands quickly. While this limited the effectiveness of the ND pass rush, the Irish were impeccable in coverage.
The Irish secondary was jumping short routes all game and tallied seven pass breakups and the star of the Irish secondary was Julian Love. Love was burned on one double move in the first half, but was phenomenal otherwise. The sophomore had three pass breakups and a pick-six and now is No. 4 in the country in passes defended.
Finley entered Saturday as a 70% passer, but the Irish held the junior to a 45% completion percentage, 5.8 yards per attempt, and forced his first interception of the season.
Wimbush finished the game 10-19 for 104 yards and two touchdowns and although his stats do not jump off the page, the evolution of Wimbush as a passer is undeniable.
As is customary with any first-time starter, Wimbush has struggles reading defenses early in the season. He would often wait until a man was open before he threw the ball and by that time, it was too late.
The three most prominent instances of Wimbush’s maturation came Saturday.
The first example came on Notre Dame’s first touchdown of the game. Wimbush connected with tight end Durham Smythe for a 25-yard touchdown, but it was the conviction in which Wimbush threw the ball that was encouraging for Irish fans.
Smythe was running a flag route and Wimbush threw the ball before he made his break and cleared the defender – Wimbush was throwing to an open space as opposed to an open man and had zero hesitation.
The second example came later in the first half on a critical third down in N.C. State territory. Wimbush was flushed out of the pocket and instead of running for the first down, he showed patience and delivered an accurate pass to Smythe who tiptoed on the sideline for a first down.
The third example came in the fourth quarter when Wimbush was calm in the pocket went through every progression before finding Kevin Stepherson on the back side for another third down conversion. The junior’s running ability is inarguable, but the Irish will become an even larger threat if he continues to make strides as a passer.
If there was one aspect of the game that Notre Dame struggled in on Saturday, it was special teams. The Irish have been far from perfect in special teams this year, but it had not bitten them until Saturday.
The Wolfpack opened up the scoring with a punt block in the endzone as a result of miscommunication on the punt blocking assignments.
Justin Yoon was perfect on extra points, but failed to register a touchback and had one kickoff go out of bounds.
After Love’s pick-six, the Irish allowed Jaylen Samuels to return the ensuing kickoff into Notre Dame territory. ND was able to stop the N.C. State drive with the fourth down stop, but the holes in special teams will continue to manifest themselves against explosive returners in November.
Running Game By the Numbers
N.C. State possesses one of the best defensive fronts in the college football and Bradley Chubb is as good of a player the Irish will face all season, but despite wins early, the Notre Dame offensive line dominated.
Prior to Saturday, the Wolfpack has not allowed more than 133 yards rushing, but the Irish recorded 136 yards in the first half alone. Adams eclipsed the 1,000-yard marker and became the fastest running back in terms of carried to reach the milestone in program history. The junior now sits at No. 5 nationally with 1169 yards and ranks No. 3 in yards per carry at 8.8.
Adams’ 77-yard touchdown run was his seventh rush of 60 or more yards and his fourth touchdown of at least 70 yards.
The aforementioned 4th & 1 stop was the biggest play of the game. The Wolfpack were reeling after Finley threw the pick-six, but they had an opportunity to regain momentum on the following drive.
After a bad snap put the Wolfpack in a 3rd & 17 on the Irish 22-yard line, N.C. State ran a quick screen and was able to pick up 16 yards and put themselves in a position to go for the conversion on fourth down.
Coney stopped Gallaspy one yard short and Notre Dame took over, but it was the penetration by the Irish defensive line that allowed Coney a clear shot at the runner. Defensive lineman Jerry Tillery and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa were able to gain penetration in the middle and force Gallaspy to Coney.