In what seems to be the normal and natural weather for when the University of Notre Dame football team heads down to Raleigh to take on the Wolfpack of North Carolina State, it was another rainy day filled with lightning and weather delays. But that did not stop our Fighting Irish from trouncing NC State in a 45-24 win that finished hours past when the game should have ended.
It was a fine showing for Notre Dame as we proved that this team is able to face stiffer competition and still show out to win. The defense was the story early in the game, the offense showed up starting in the second quarter and the turnovers caused by our secondary sealed the victory to get the Irish to 3-0 on the season.
As we laid out in last week’s column, we are beginning our countdown to eleven regular season wins for our Irish and with the victories in our first three games, our original “Eleven Reasons Why...” column has now moved to “Nine Reasons Why...” with wins over Navy (11), TSU (10) and NC State.
With that out of the way, let’s get right into it (and in no particular order)...
#1 - The Irish Defense was the difference early:
Notre Dame received the opening kickoff and as my fellow ND grad and friend Dan Hickey texted me “Did the Irish offensive line forget the game started at 12 PM EST?” the Irish offense sputtered and was giving the Wolfpack the ball with great field position to start their early drives. All the Irish defense did to the Wolfpack across their first six drives was the following: Punt, Punt, Punt, Punt, Interception and Punt. The defense picked up the slac and it allowed the Irish’s offense to get their feet under them as they got used to a bigger, faster and stronger defense than what they had seen up to this point. Great work by Al Golden and staff.
#2 - The Notre Dame Secondary was anything but secondary on Saturday:
Three interceptions and lots of knocked down balls by the guys in the backend. Standout days from Harper, Brown, Morrison and Watts, with the latter three all coming away with INTs on the afternoon. It was a question mark coming into the game as the Irish had not really been tested to this point in the air, but consider this the first test passed.
#3 - The Tight Ends, YES, we have some weapons:
If you listened to a lot of Notre Dame podcasts or subscribe to some of the Notre Dame pay sites, you are not surprised by what we have seen this year from Holden Staes. Across three games he now has three TDs and is proving out to be TE1. He is a complete player as he can block, he can make plays in space and he can get yards after the catch. Another weapon has emerged for Sam Hartman and he makes ND just that much harder to defend. Additionally, we saw Davis Sherwood get into the action with his first career TD and Mitchell Evans continues to get significant time. Great to see these three guys step up and don’t forget, like Coach Deion say, Eli Raridon “is coming.”
#4 - Containing Stretch Armstrong:
One of the things that Brennan Armstrong is known for is for his legs and his ability to run and stretch a defense. And if you were the ND defense coming into this game, you did not want to break contain and let Armstrong beat you with his feet to get first downs when you otherwise had the play shut down. The Irish defense held Armstrong to 26 yards on 12 carries with a long of nine yards. Let that sink in. The defense knew their jobs, they knew they could not let him make plays and they held him in check for almost the whole game. Job well done.
#5 - Spencer Shrader gets some confidence:
Having a reliable place kicker is something the Irish know they will need this season and seeing Shrader hit one home from 54 and then hit the upright from 56 later on in the game was a good sign. He has been perfect so far this year on his extra points but badly missed his only FG attempt against Navy. Really good to see him make one before the heart of our schedule starts to get underway. These are the little things that will make a difference later on this year.
#6 - An off day for Sam Hartman is better than most on a good day:
His stat line is not going to initially WOW people as he finished the day 15 for 24 (62.5%) for 286 yards and two fumbles (one of them lost). He was not on point early on and the offensive line did not do him any favors either. He turned things around as the day moved along and he ended with four TDs (his post to Greathouse was a thing of beauty). He continues to be QB1, he continues to absolutely impress (chef’s kiss again) in drives before the half, and he continues to be what we all thought we would get when he came to ND. His leadership shows through each and every week, looking forward to keeping it going this weekend against Central Michigan.
#7 - Gerard Parker made a big adjustment coming out of the weather delay:
Let’s be brutally honest, the game was 3-0 Irish as we went back into the locker room to wait out an almost two hour lightning delay. Through one quarter the offense was not looking great and as the teams came back to play, NC State was ready to go having come out of the confines of their home digs. Notre Dame had to rely on hot dogs for the players (and coaches) and the team had to stay in their wet uniforms in the cramped confines of the visitor locker room. It was 1st and 10 at our own 20 yard line and the Irish came out with Alt and Fisher next to each other on the right side of the line. And then Audric Estime got a handoff, followed those two around the end and took it 80 yards to the house. Amazing play call and design and not only did it give our team confidence, but it completely took out the home crowd as things got back underway following the delay. Tremendous job by Parker and staff.
#8 - Big Dric is tough to stop:
Speaking of Audric Estime, he is just an absolute bowling ball who is so hard to take down. While he did not have the most complete game, he still finished averaging over 9.6 yards per carry and when the line gave him some good blocking, it was almost always a five yard gain. He has a unique ability to be able to not only get yards inside, but also take it outside and show off some speed. Big Dric is a beast.
#9 - Coach Marcus Freeman (CMF) is coming into his own:
We talked about CMF’s emotion last week, well this week he continued to show the progression he has made as Notre Dame’s head coach. It is still early in his tenure as our coach, but if you are not on this train yet (shout out to buddies Ray and Vijay who still need some convincing), there is still time to get on board. I could not be happier with how CMF is growing into his role and the leadership he is showing on a day to day basis. You can tell how much this team likes to play for him, but at the same time they know that if they don’t perform, he is going to be on them. CMF is making this team his own and it is so fun to watch.
It was not always pretty at times on Saturday, and at one point the Wolfpack had the ball at the Irish 17 yard line with a first and ten after a Hartman fumble. The score was 24-17 Irish and the game was on the verge of being tied. The Irish defense stiffened up, they forced a FG attempt that was missed and the Irish then went on to score 21 straight points to take a 45-17 lead before the Wolfpack got a TD with just over two minutes to go to make it a 45-24 final.
It was a complete team effort as the Irish got a tough road win in an environment that had seen NC State win 16 of their last 17 home games. Not to mention that the Wolfpack had not given up over 30 points in their last 16 games.
Upcoming we have Central Michigan coming to South Bend this Saturday, another chance for our Irish to get better and continue to improve. We are not going to even talk about what is on deck after that, let’s get through this weekend and then we can start the conversation. Until then, looking forward to next week’s “Eight Reasons Why...” column. LFG!