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Notre Dame Football: W.I.N. (What’s Important Now) — NC State Wolfpack Week

It’s a lazy Labor Day Monday, but we’re going to be overachievers and still send out the weekly W.I.N. deck for you all to prep for the short week!

*finishes a nice breakfast, enjoys a productive yet relaxing holiday morning...and then suddenly realizes the boss man still wanted me to send out the weekly W.I.N. deck despite our weekly meeting being canceled for the long weekend*

Ahhhhhhh damnit, I knew I was forgetting something I was supposed to do this weekend! Woof, it’s gonna be way later than I wanted/than we normally meet to discuss, but I suppose it’s better I get it out this afternoon than to not get it sent at all. Oof, okay, here we go:

*clicks “Send” button*

TO: “Project W.I.N. Project Team listserv”

SUBJECT: Weekly Project W.I.N. Update and Accompanying Deck


Happy Labor Day, Project W.I.N. team!

My apologies on the delay in getting this sent out today — some long weekend travel and family commitments kept me from finalizing the deck until just now.

I’ve attached this week’s deck with all of the updates regarding last week’s performance and the focus areas for this week. Please reference that for the nitty-gritty details, and let me know if you have any questions or concerns.

For your convenience, I’m also writing up a quick summary below to walk you through the key points for this week:

Same agenda of topics per usual, and I will skip the W.I.N. definition refreshers in this email (please see the deck for that info if needed). Let’s go ahead and dive in!

Last week was another super successful week for the project, as our Notre Dame Fighting Irish did exactly what you’d expect them to do in their first ever game against an FCS opponent (and a bad FCS opponent at that). The Irish hosted Eddie George and his Tennessee State Tigers in the home opener on Saturday afternoon and despite a few bumpy moments, they dominated in exactly the fashion they needed to as they cruised to a 56-3 victory.

That victory, like last week’s 42-3 stomping of Navy, included mostly positive moments — but there were a few negatives as well, so let’s take a look at both.

I’ll start on the positive side this week and try to cover these quickly for the purposes of keeping this email relatively brief.

ND hasn’t played anybody even remotely decent this season, so it’s hard to glean too much so far — but good teams should always dominate bad teams, and ND has once again crushed a bad opponent and Marcus Freeman’s squad has now outscored the opposition 98-6 through two games. Not too shabby.

Sam Hartman continues to just be ridiculously efficient and awesome against overmatched defenses, this week completing 14 of 17 passes in one half of play for just under 200 yards and 2 scores while also scoring an absolutely SICK rushing touchdown in which he flipped into the end zone incredibly smoothly.

Hartman is now 33-of-40 for 445 yards, 6 touchdowns, and 0 INTs through the first 1/6th of the season, and he’s handled pressure very well against teams that needed to try to bring the heat in order to slow down the Irish. That hasn’t worked at all.

Hartman putting the Irish ahead by so much so early allowed ND to get backup QB Steve “Peanut Butter” Angeli in for essentially a full half of PT, and although it was obviously against Tennessee State, it was really encouraging to see how well the sophomore managed the offense. He completed 8 of his 11 pass attempts for 130 yards and threw two touchdowns, including one to Jadarian Price where Price did most of the hard work in taking a dump-off to the house with a very disrespectful cut:

Angeli’s and Hartman’s performances were good enough and the Irish were up so much that even true freshman Kenny Minchey got into the game, so that was fun to see as well.

The Irish running game continued to bulldoze weak competition, with Audric Estime putting up another really nice game (116 yards, 8.9 YPC, 1 TD) while the rest of the running backs on the depth chart continued to show flashes and prove that ND has the best type of problem — too much talent to get the ball to. Jeremiyah Love continued to impress as a true freshman, running for 46 yards on just 5 carries (that’s 9.2 yards per carry, you guys, which puts him at 86 total yards and 9.6 YPC on the season) and scampering for an impressive 36-yard score.

Price added that 40-yard touchdown reception and Gi’Bran Payne ran for 4.5 YPC and also had a 40+ yard touchdown catch courtesy of Angeli. It’ll be interesting to see how carries and snaps get dispersed as the Irish hit the real opponents on their schedule, but even just for the sake of the future, it’s been fun to see how many awesome options Deland McCullough has developed for this team. Looking at Price and Love play especially, it’s going to be hard to not play them now, even with how good Estime obviously is as the starter.

The nice days from Hartman and Angeli obviously were aided by another balanced and productive day from the Irish receivers, and this time the tight ends got involved too! Mitchell Evans reeled in 4 passes for 61 yards, Holden Staes had a 4-yard touchdown catch, Chris Tyree snagged himself a 24-yard touchdown from Hartman, and Jayden Thomas was his usual model of consistency, catching 4 balls for 62 yards on the day.

Meanwhile, the Irish defense had a few bumpy moments for sure, allowing the Tigers to drive down the field a couple times — but overall they had another stifling performance against a bad offense. They allowed just 158 total yards and just 4 conversions out of 14 3rd down opportunities, and were tough both against the pass (36% completion and 3.0 YPA allowed) and the run (2.6 YPC surrendered on the day).

Clarence Lewis got himself a pick-six, Ramon Henderson snagged himself an interception as well, and Jason Onye managed to salvage one of the drives the Tigers got into ND territory by blocking a field goal attempt. It was really nice to see these guys making plays and forcing turnovers, and hopefully they’ll continue that momentum in Raleigh next week.

Also, Jordan Botelho may have gotten the lone sack for the Irish on a day when you’d hope Al Golden’s crew could get a handful more against an FCS offensive line, but they still got plenty of pressure on Tennessee State QBs Draylen Ellis and Deveon Bryant.

Finally, Irish fans got a bonus little bit of schadenfreude on Sunday night as we all got to watch Brian Kelly take his preseason top-5 LSU squad down to Tallahassee in order to get absolutely smoked by the Florida State Seminoles 45-24. Yeah, you could argue we shouldn’t care anymore what happens to him and his program, but damnit if it still isn’t satisfying to see him lose a big game on national TV just like the old days.

Okay, on the negative side, there wasn’t THAT much to really talk about. We covered the fact the defense had a rough start in terms of completely shutting down the Tennessee State offense’s production, but they ultimately only allowed 3 points, so it’s hard to be too mad there.

Devyn Ford had a fumble, but from my understanding it was because he got absolutely targeted and knocked out, so I can’t hold that against him. I will hold the no-call against the refs, though. On the flipside, I heard Antonio Carter got called for a pretty garbage targeting call, so that adds to the annoyance there on how these refs apply that rule differently at different times, but also how they don’t seem to be following the letter of the law either.

NCAA Football: Tennessee State at Notre Dame Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports

Hartman flipping into the end zone was cool, but I’m gonna be a lame-o for a second and say it’s a negative that he’s taking flight like that in a game against an FCS opponent. Yeah, players shouldn’t hold up or anything because that can often be how they actually hurt themselves, but there’s going all-out and then there’s GOING ALL-OUT and I don’t think we need the all-caps version in a game the Irish are going to win by 53 points. Save the airborne flipping/diving touchdowns for Ohio State, USC, and Clemson you guys.

Tobias Merriweather again had a pretty underwhelming day offensively, at least in terms of receiving. However, I do think it’s worth reminding ourselves that the Irish have been running a very vanilla offense against these two bad opponents in order to save some things for the real opponents, so let’s wait and see if Merriweather gets more involved in the vertical passing game in the big games the next month and a half.

Also, it’s not like Merriweather isn’t trying or is unable to get on the field or anything — the dude is playing lots of snaps and blocking his ass off, showing he’s a great teammate and willing to do what’s needed of him.

I don’t know how often it will happen, but that Stanford TD catch he had last year is absolutely going to happen again in a game or two this season, and so it will be fun to see Merriweather’s length, speed, and playmaking ability potentially explode onto the scene out of nowhere in the next couple months.

The last couple negatives involve allowing a 58-yard kickoff return (which should never happen, but especially not against an FCS team), and having to punt twice against Tennessee State, which sounds like a ridiculous thing to be mad about, but I’m having to write this work email on a Monday, so let me have that one.

Okay, now let’s quickly review a few charts and graphs I threw together — this week is nothing that fun or interesting, but just wanted to point out how well the Irish have played in these first two weeks...

You’ll see here that Sam Hartman currently has the 2nd-best Total QBR in the country, only behind Conner Weigman of Texas A&M. Also, this is your reminder that Hartman has played double the amount of games as most of the names in this list, so the fact he’s sitting that high is pretty awesome. Hopefully he can keep that up as he plays against some real defenses.

Next, I just wanted to show a few charts that plot the ND offense vs. others on some key metrics. Gerad Parker hasn’t had to do anything against a defense with a pulse yet, but after two games against bad opponents, it’s been fun to see how balanced the Irish O has looked and how productive they’ve been — they’re currently in the Top 12 in yards per play, Top 25 in total offense, Top 20 in scoring offense, and Top 2 in plays from scrimmage of 20+ yards or more.

This ND offense so far is moving the ball at-will, putting up tons of points, and looking pretty darn explosive. It’s a great start (even if expected) for the OC who’s had lots of questions about his qualifications since he was hired.

Finally, checking in on Al Golden’s defense in the same way shows us that they’ve been truly fantastic against two really limited offensive opponents. The Irish are tied for 2nd in the country in scoring defense and 5th in yards per play allowed, just not allowing opponents to really get anything going to-date.

Alright, now let’s take the time to celebrate our successes by recognizing our Team Members of the Week!!

I want to give a massive shout-out to Audric, Jeremiyah, Jadarian, Gi’Bran, Sam, Steve, Jayden, Mitchell, Chris, Holden, Clarence, Ramon, Jordan, Jason, Howard, J.D., Joshua, Aidan, and Thomas — you all did a great job on Saturday and have fully earned our praise!

Please check your inboxes first thing tomorrow morning for Sweetgreen gift cards in appreciation of all your hard work and accomplishments recently!

Okay y’all, final quick portion to cover for last week before we take a look at this coming week’s goals — it’s once again time for Pat Rick’s Live Journal, featuring a trip behind enemy lines with my Michigan-grad fiancée to watch MY East Carolina Pirates get absolutely annihilated by the Jim Harbaugh-less Wolverines.

I’ll let you read through that slide in detail, but just a couple quick thoughts from my second time experiencing a game day in Ann Arbor:

  • The first time I went to a game at the Big House was the 2013 game where the Irish lost their “final” trip to Ann Arbor, a zonked-out Eminem did an interview on-air that we will all remember forever, and a bunch of middle-aged men did the Chicken Dance in my face as I tried to leave because that’s how Walmart Wolverines act when they beat a team quarterbacked by Tommy Rees
  • This time was much more enjoyable, because I got to actually enjoy Ann Arbor and the tailgating scene with my fiancée and other Michigan alumni/fans who are actually great people, and there was no downside of watching my Irish lose to that horrible program
  • You’ve probably heard of Zingerman’s, a famous deli in Ann Arbor with incredible sandwiches (it lives up to all the hype, y’all)...but I didn’t know until this trip that there’s also a Zingerman’s Roadhouse, which is a full restaurant with an AWESOME menu. Their sweet potato fries are life-changing.
A waitress holding a tray of food at Zingerman’s Delicatessen. Photo by: Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images
  • Shout out to our friend’s mom Margie, who made tons of Jell-O and pudding shots for us to enjoy at their tailgate as we tried to stay cool in the shade
  • At the game, we sat in front of a couple guys who were definitely season ticket holders and definitely absolute dinguses (saying that in the least endearing way possible) — they kept talking LOUDLY about how everyone should be sitting down and they hated any time our section decided to stand to take in the action. I was super close to turning around and telling them to go home and watch on the couch, which should be telling about how annoyed I was considering I’m not a Michigan fan and thus really didn’t care to get into a heated discussion with anyone while just enjoying a football Saturday in-person
  • There were two much more awesome people to report on in our section, though — the guy right in front of us who wore a bright yellow wrestling mask in the horrible heat, and then the guy super far up in our section wearing a Michigan Kangol hat who kept trying to lead everyone in chants. Love both of those guys, they are truly college football fan characters in the best way
  • Finally, I want to mention that before the game, we went to the “M Den” to check out all the Michigan merch they had to offer, and boy were there some gems:

My favorite items included the huge “M” chain, the shirt that says “The Team, The Team, The Team” as if that’s a super inspiring or interesting quote, a name mug for the name “Art” for some reason (how on earth did that get included in the list to make these for?), one for “Bo” that anyone should be ashamed to drink from at this point, a knock-off Lego set of the Big House (the brand is called “FOCO”???), lots of Detroit-specific apparel (I get it’s very close to Ann Arbor, but this would be like ND having a bunch of Warsaw, IN merch), several Tommy Bahama options, and then of course, a stuffed wolverine that they felt the need to label as “display only” (I assume they got lots of inquiries from Walmart Wolverines looking for a classy decoration for their homes).

Okay team, let’s briefly review the project timeline to understand where we are in terms of milestones, and then we can talk about this coming week.

As you can see from the timeline, this week is all about the North Carolina State Wolfpack. So, let’s start with the competitor overview and understand what we should know about these guys.

Some key highlights to note:

  • Dave Doeren has somehow been there 11 years. And listen, he’s been fairly successful and I know it’s not the EASIEST program to win at, but wow is he just like the perfect model of being a mediocre coach. Here’s to him lasting another 11 years there.
  • “Think and Do” as a university motto is one I can get behind — simple, rational, and action-oriented.
  • I am FULLY convinced that Mrs. Wuf exists as a direct result of tons of people flirtatiously saying “So, is there a MRS. Wuf?” to Mr. Wuf and making him super uncomfortable
  • Another school who’s never been able to defeat North Carolina Navy Pre-Flight — their dynasty was truly special
  • The Wolfpack have a fun assortment of alumni — the “father of plasma television,” some guy whose entry on Wikipedia made me learn the term “luthier” and also made me aware of the existence of “electric banjos,” Zach Galifianakis, Donald Trump’s daughter-in-law, lots of fun famous athletes, one of the most fun being Cullen Jones, whose graduation from NC State is enabling me to embed this video of the 2008 U.S. 4x100 freestyle relay race that dramatically won gold in one of my favorite sports moments EVER:

Okay, now let’s quickly review something way more important — what are the best names NC State has to offer on this roster?

We are SO back with great names, you guys. Juice Vereen is elite, Jaxon Godbey sounds like a lacrosse star, Red Hibbler and Bishop Fitzgerald are super fun, Shyheim Battle is a great name for a stud corner, Jayden Hollar sounds like an absolute hoot, Cedd and Fred are rhyming brother names, and Christopher Toudle is hilarious.

Oh, and not only do they have solid names, but Dawson Jaramillo and Caden Noonkester were two guys on the roster I decided to dive deeper into due to their mullet-heavy photos, and boy do these guys not disappoint:

Just absolutely majestic hair from this offensive lineman and punter combo, and it was quite fun to find out that Jaramillo is #69 and says “Lifestyle not a Hairstyle” in his Twitter bio (while also selling vintage golf hats) while Noonkester rocks #98, is majoring in Crop and Soil Sciences, and has a fantastic Twitter header photo of him napping in uniform with a cowboy hat for some reason.

Now, with all that said, what else should we know about this Wolfpack squad?

NC State went 8-5 in 2022 and didn’t return a whole lot from that very mediocre squad, as Bill Connelly ranked them 94th in returning production earlier this year (56% production returning overall — 62% on offense, 50% on defense). They brought in some talent to help make up for that, but were still expected to be just okay this season, as Connelly ranked them 42nd in his preseason SP+ rankings (60th on offense, 20th on defense).

Through one game so far this year, Connelly’s ratings seem about right, if not a little overly optimistic. The Wolfpack started their season last Thursday with a not-at-all convincing 24-14 win over the UConn Huskies that didn’t involve much of anything statistically-impressive.

The Wolfpack, as of Sunday, were 78th in the country in scoring offense (24 PPG), 88th in yards per play (5.06 YPP), 76th in total offense (364 YPG), 99th in passing, T-93rd in yards per pass attempt (6.0 YPA), 64th in yards per carry (4.54 YPC), and T-87th in tackles for loss allowed. They did a decent job of running the ball at an aggregate level vs. the Huskies (T-33rd in the nation at 209 rushing YPG), but weren’t efficient in doing so.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 31 NC State at UConn Photo by Gregory Fisher/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Furthermore, the Wolfpack offense showed next to no explosiveness against that UConn defense, as they currently sit T-61st in plays from scrimmage of 10+ yards and they’re tied for last in plays of 20+ yards or longer (they have precisely 0 of those).

NC State is led by quarterback Brennan Armstrong, whom most of you probably remember from his Virginia Cavaliers days and as someone at least briefly considered as a potential grad transfer candidate for the Irish. Armstrong is like a poor man’s poor man’s Sam Hartman, as he’s a veteran who’s produced a lot in his career (9,034 yards on 61% completion for 58 TDs), but he’s also thrown 35 interceptions and has been sacked 84 times.

Those sacks are largely due to some porous UVA offensive lines, though (sacked 31 times in 2021 and 34 in 2022), as Armstrong is actually pretty good at making plays with his legs — he has run for ~1,400 yards and 22 rushing touchdowns in his career, and his 96 rushing yards and 2 rushing TDs on 5.1 YPC were the driving force behind the Wolfpack’s week one victory. He only threw for 155 yards on 17-of-26 passing for 6.0 YPA and no touchdowns through the air.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

NC State lost several top passing targets from 2022, with Thayer Thomas, Devin Carter, and Darryl Jones departing, meaning 45% of their receiving yards, 42% of their receptions, and 39% of their receiving TDs walked out the door. So, when Armstrong does throw this year, he’ll look for targets like WRs Julian Gray (2 receptions, 14 yards last week vs. UConn), Kevin Concepcion (4 receptions, 36 yards), Keyon Lesane (2 receptions, 22 yards), Porter Rooks (2 receptions, 18 yards), Terrell Timmons (1 reception, 18 yards), and TE Christopher Toudle.

Helping Armstrong in the running game is RB Jordan Houston, who was their leading rusher in 2022 with 544 yards on 4 YPC. He ran for 57 yards at a 4.4 yards-per-carry clip in their win over the Huskies last week.

Defensively, NC State looks to be a bit more competent than they are on the other side of the ball. Their stats aren’t great after UConn managed a few big plays and nice drives on them (T-40th in scoring defense, 42nd in total defense, 70th in YPP allowed, T-93rd in rushing defense, 115th in YPC allowed, T-87th in TFL), but they do appear to have some talent at linebacker and defensive back, leading to a solid pass defense.

After the first week, the Wolfpack are T-16th in pass defense, 18th in YPA allowed, 14th in QB Rating allowed, T-8th in passes defended, and 14th in pass efficiency defense. Of course, all of those stats could simply be because their first opponent was UConn, who isn’t very strong through the air — but NC State still will be easily the best pass defense Sam Hartman has faced in this young season.

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at Connecticut David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

The secondary is led by a couple good corners in Aydan White (46 tackles, 9 PD, 4 INT, 1 INT TD in 2022) and Shyheim Battle (34 tackles, 5 PD, 2 INT in 2022), and other DBs you’ll see in the rotation include Devan Boykin (20 tackles, 1 INT in 2022), Jakeen Harris (20 tackles, 2 PD, 2 INT in 2022), Sean Brown (3 tackles, 2 PD last week vs. UConn) and Old Dominion transfer Robert Kennedy (53 tackles, 6 Pd, 2 FF, 1 INT in 2022).

The star of the show for this defense, though, is LB Payton Wilson. The senior had a great start to his season last week with 10 tackles (1 TFL) and an interception, and his career stats speak for themselves in terms of his production: 275 career tackles, 8 passes defended, 9 sacks, and 5 interceptions. He will be the one the Irish need to neutralize in order to find consistent success on the ground and in the short passing game. The Irish need to account for him at all times, in hopes of keeping him from picking up another Turnover Bone:

He’s joined in the middle of the defense by Devon Betty (4 tackles last week) and Jaylon Scott (3 tackles) — both of whom have stepped up to take on bigger roles at linebacker this season.

Meanwhile, the Wolfpack appear to be pretty middle-of-the-road in terms of their ability to get after the quarterback, as they managed 2 sacks vs. UConn but might not be able to find the same success against Joe Alt, Blake Fisher, and co. The defensive line’s best player is DT Davin Vann, a 6’2”, 280-lb junior who managed 33 tackles, 4.5 sacks (T-2nd on the team with Payton Wilson), 1 PD, and 1 FF in 2022. He had 5 tackles and a sack in the opener.

Other names to know include DT C.J. Clark (18 tackles, 3 sacks in 2022), DEs Travali Price (16 tackles, 1.5 sacks, 1 FR in 2022) and Savion Jackson (15 tackles, 1 PD in 2022), and DL Red Hibbler (1 sack last week vs. UConn).

NCAA Football: North Carolina State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

NC State wasn’t particularly good at getting off the field on 3rd down against UConn (T-53rd in the country in 3rd down conversion defense at 33.33%), which could be a problem when going up against ND’s 77.78% success rate (14 of 18 on 3rd downs vs. Navy and TSU).

On special teams, NC State’s kicker is Western Kentucky transfer Brayden Narveson (1-for-2 on field goals in the opener, hitting a 44-yarder but missing a 50-yarder) and their punter is the mullet-clad legend we learned about earlier, Caden Noonkester. He punted 3 times last week with a long of 47 yards and an average of 45.3.

Finally, another name to note on special teams is Julian Gray, who’s not only a top wideout for the Wolfpack but also their kick returner. He’s shown to be dangerous in the return game already this year with a 44-yard kickoff return last week.

Okay folks, let’s now finally talk about What’s Important Now this week as the Irish travel for their first road game of the season.

These are pretty straightforward yet again, so let’s quickly jump through them.

1. It’s important for the Irish to start fast. This NC State team isn’t explosive offensively, isn’t good against the run or very good rushing the passer, and their pass defense is promising but untested. If the Irish can come out and punch them in the mouth right from the start and build a nice early lead, they can likely coast with the ground game to a mostly relaxed road victory.

2. Thus, W.I.N. point #2 is to use the advantage the Irish have up front and with their running backs to bulldoze the Wolfpack, not only to set the tone and wear them down over the course of the game, but also to soften their one potential strength (their pass defense) by forcing them to sell out more to stop the run.

3. If that’s successful, Hartman should have some chances to go deep, and so it’s important Parker has him take those. Yeah, NC State isn’t an elite opponent, but this is no longer Navy or Tennessee State where you don’t need to go deep at all, and so it will be important to stretch things out and get some big plays over the top to break this thing open and allow Hartman to build some deep ball rapport with his receivers in-game. Look for Thomas, Greathouse, Merriweather, and Tyree to all be good over-the-top options here.

4. Defensively, it’s going to be very important that the Irish generate a strong pass rush. Ideally they will get home for sacks way more often than they did against TSU, but at a bare minimum they need to constantly be in Brennan Armstrong’s face and forcing him to make quick decisions. Additionally, though, the Irish need to be sure to contain Armstrong. He’s got some playmaking ability with his feet, and was only sacked once last week. If he’s allowed to sit in the pocket comfortably or if he gets outside the tackle box with some room to run, it will allow the Wolfpack to extend drives they otherwise would be punting on.

5. This Wolfpack offense, as stated, isn’t talented enough at the skill positions to just put up a bunch of big plays on their own. However, if the Irish struggle to wrap up and tackle like they did against the Tigers last weekend, it could be a longer day than we’d all like. Al Golden needs to have his guys ready to execute — this isn’t Navy or an FCS squad anymore, so they CAN make you pay if you don’t do your job.

6. Crush them. NC State has a few ways they could certainly make this interesting, and it is a home game for them. But besides that, ND is the superior team essentially across the board. There might only be one or two guys on the entire Wolfpack team who would start and/or make the rotation on this Irish depth chart. Let’s go put them in a hole early, build the lead, and coast in the 4th quarter with our guy Peanut Butter enjoying some more PT.

Alright folks, that’s it for this project update. If you have any questions...

Please be sure to email them to me and I will log them in our project tracker document and get back to you as soon as possible.

Otherwise, I hope the rest of your holiday is relaxed and spent with family and friends, and I look forward to another successful week of Project W.I.N. starting tomorrow!


Pat Rick

Project Manager, Project W.I.N.

*sighs loudly to himself, logs off, goes directly to the couch to mindlessly watch some Suits reruns before the Clemson/Duke game starts*