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Postgame Notebook: Notre Dame 44, North Carolina 34

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Does Brian Kelly play freshmen?

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

For the second week in a row, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish gave up more yards than its opponent during a home night game, and for the second week in a row they get the win. On Saturday night, the Irish took down the North Carolina Tar Heels 44-34 to improve to 7-1 on the season.

GOAT

Over the last few weeks the topic of “greatest Notre Dame running back” has been greatly talked about on social media and on message boards. On Saturday night, Kyren Williams made yet another argument in his favor. Williams ran for 199 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown in the mix — some 91 yarder that you have heard about.

Over the last two games, Williams has run for 337 yards and 3 touchdowns as the resurgent Irish ground game fortifies hope for an 11-1 finish.

With Kyren, however, it’s more than the rushing yards. Early in the game, Kyren returned a punt 47 yards to help set up a shirt touchdown drive for the Irish. It was the first 7 points in a game that slowly churned into a shootout against the Heels.

Williams is playing himself into a nice round two selection in the 2022 NFL Draft, and while the rushing yards are great, on Saturday he continued to showoff his receiving and pass blocking skills as well — which are damn near elite.

The argument has swung wildly in Kyren’s favor.

Jack “Rocket” Coan

Brian Kelly said it was the two minute drill at Virginia Tech that fueled their moves with the direction of Jack Coan at quarterback. Coan had another extremely efficient game as the Irish signal caller as he went 16-24 (with a couple of drops) for 213 yards and a touchdown. While he was sacked once, Coan still finished the game with 3 carries for 28 yards and a touchdown.

Brian Kelly joked about Coan’s speed after the game, and Coan refused to cough up the GPS numbers — but he was quite pleased with himself (as he should be).

Brian Kelly doesn’t play freshmen

The old adage that Kelly refuses to play freshmen is being decimated this season. Against North Carolina, Notre Dame got key contributions from the following:

  • OL Joe Alt starter at left tackle
  • QB Tyler Buchner, 2-2 17 yards and 1 TD + 16 yards rushing on 4 carries
  • WR Lorenzo Styles, 3 receptions for 74 yards
  • RB Logan Diggs 11 carries for 42 yards and 1 TD

The freshmen didn’t just play — they were major factors in Notre Dame’s win.

Just good enough

The Irish defense will certainly take some lumps after allowing 654 yards and 34 points, and rightfully so. Sam Howell accounted for 346 through the air and 101 on the ground as Notre Dame had a tremendously difficult time getting Howell to the ground.

And yet, they did enough to win a football game — a shootout. In a game where possessions mattered, Notre Dame forced a turnover late in the game with a D.J. Brown interception. The Irish also kept UNC off of the board on their final drive, which could have caused more anxiety than anyone wants to feel late in the game.

Clearly the loss of Kyle Hamilton was tremendous, and it raises more concerns should Kyle not return for the Virginia game — but the Irish were victorious, so it helps ease the gashing a bit. Isaiah Foskey had another good game, and was able to rack up 12 a sack along with Jayson Ademilola.

If we’re going to be honest about the lackluster performance on this side of the ball, we also need to point out a handful of awful no calls on “pick plays” that helped UNC keep pace early in the game. It’s not an excuse for poor tackling, but it at least shows it wasn’t bottom of the barrel night defensively.

T Formation

If you’re a listener of the OFD Podcast and/or a regular here, you already know of my personal campaign to bring the T-Formation back to Notre Dame. It’s too good of an idea to NOT use on occasion, and finally the Irish delivered on Saturday night.

George Takacs and Audric Estime (another freshman) lined up next to Logan Diggs in the T-Formation before both shifted up towards the line as wingbacks. Diggs scores on this play... WE DID IT!

Moving forward

I’m not going to draw too much from this game — good or bad. The one main point thing that I needed to see from Notre Dame was the ability to actually win a game like this. Could Notre Dame win a shootout type game? They proved that they could, and now they can build upon that for the last four games of the season (but particularly for Virginia in two weeks).

The college football playoff rankings will be released on Tuesday, so regardless of any of our opinions, we’ll see how the committee views the Irish soon enough.