Stop me if you've heard this before: Notre Dame started a game ugly, committed a lot of turnovers but somehow overcame their own mistakes to win the game.
So...that happened again.
After an ugly start, Notre Dame used a 21-point 2nd quarter and held back a feisty Tar Heel offense as the Irish defeated North Carolina, 50-43 in an offensive show in South Bend.
The game could not have started any worse. Golson fumbled as he was hit on the first series and UNC recovered and Elijah Hood (remember him recruitniks?) put the ball in the end zone to put the Heels up early. After the offense struggled again, Golson tried to force the issue and Tar Heels LB Jeff Schoettmer picked him off and ran it back for a score. Before the Irish could even blink, North Carolina was up 14-0.
But Golson righted the ship, putting together a 5 play, 88 yard drive led by Will Fuller, who caught a Golson 13-yard pass to cut the lead to 7.
Then the Irish ground game, a ghost for most of the year, got going. Cam McDaniel put away a goal line TD and Greg Bryant followed that up with a 7-yard scamper to gave the Irish their first lead of the game with 10-minutes to go in the 2nd quarter. After UNC scored to cut the lead to one (ND blocked the extra point), Tarean Folston became the third Irish running back to find the end zone, putting one away with 2 minutes to go in the half.
The third quarter resembled a mutated version of the first. The Irish defense held (a rarity this game) and Golson found Fuller again on a 35-yard screen pass for a score. But then the offense shut down and the defense got tired and the Irish found themselves down one with a quarter to go.
But a 15-point 4th quarter sealed the deal (along with a recovered onside kick) and the Irish are now undefeated and likely in the top-5 with a visit to Florida State next weekend.
Some thoughts below:
Notre Dame's running game woke up but the Offensive Line was offensive at times
The much-maligned Irish running game made its grand appearance against the Tar Heels in impressive fashion. All three Irish running backs found the end zone and the O-Line was getting decent push all day. Even when passing plays broke down, Golson was able to tuck it and run. It will be a different slog against the Seminoles next Saturday but the Irish's performance will at the very least keep the FSU defense honest. At the same time, the Irish offensive line gave up a lot of pressure and committed way too many penalties. UNC's defensive line mixed up their stunts and the line had trouble all day picking it up. That said, the Irish's rushing yards and Golson's passing yards mitigated the damage.
Golson's First Quarter yips are a problem
This marks the fourth game in a row (that I can remember at least) where Golson had major problems in the first quarter. It's almost like he is working through the motions at the onset of the game, and it is a problem. I'll excuse the sack-fumble because Golson was in the act of passing, but the Pick Six was a glaringly bad decision, and his 3rd quarter fumble was inexcusable. This isn't anything new. Against Purdue, Golson was rattled by the Purdue defensive pressure. Against Syracuse, Golson was rattled early again by pressure and coughed the ball up. Against Stanford, Golson fumbled deep in Stanford territory that completely flipped the field. North Carolina's defense definitely watched tape and the book is now out on Golson. Expect Florida State to bring a lot of pressure early next week. It'll be interesting to see how Kelly works with his QB this week to fix the problem.
It wasn't a typical defensive performance, but BVG's guys did just enough to win
Marquise Williams was electric for the Tar Heels. 24-41 for 303 yards, 2 TDs and a pick and he also gained a whopping 132 yards on the ground with a rushing TD. Oh, I'm not done. He also caught a touchdown pass. He was UNC's offense today and ND's defense struggled to contain him. However, the rest of the UNC offense ran into the ND defense we're used to. Hood rushed for 27 yards on 17 carries (a 1.6 ypc) and outside of Williams, the Heels couldn't move the ball on the ground. Two turnovers by the Tar Heels were the difference though, including a highlight-reel interception by Cole Luke. The Irish defense was definitely porous today (501 yards of offense for UNC) but they did just enough to win.