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Notre Dame - NC State Reaction: Estime, Staes and Secondary Pace Irish to Win

Thunder on offense plus lightning on defense is a recipe for success

NCAA Football: Notre Dame at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Here are some thoughts on Notre Dame’s weather-weathering win over NC State in Raleigh, N.C.

Three Cheers for Sherwood

I’m starting with this one because I want to make sure Notre Dame fullback Davis Sherwood’s parents see this shoutout if they actually read this story. Back in June of 2022, I wrote a column on how Notre Dame needed to utilize its fullbacks. I wound up getting an email from Sherwood’s parents, in which they thanked me for giving their son a shoutout while also informing me that he had actually been offered a scholarship at the end of his freshman season (before that news was made known to the public, I might add).

Ever since then, for the sake of his very loving parents, I have wanted nothing more than for Sherwood to get a touchdown. Well, today he hit that milestone. Let’s hope there’s even more to come.

Bringing the Thunder: Estime and Staes

Speaking of fullbacks, how about Holden Staes (yes, I know he’s a tight end, but close enough)? Four receptions for 115 yards and two touchdowns, all of which led the team on Saturday. Not only did he break out in Notre Dame’s first game against a Power 5 opponent, but he also wears the same lucky number (13) that I always wore when playing sports growing up.

On the podcast formerly known as the One Foot Down podcast, the Emperor, Commissioner and Chief Inspector did a “your boys” draft before the 2022 season where they chose the five players that they would ride or die with (i.e., who they really wanted to see succeed). If we’re doing that again this year (albeit three games into the season), then here’s mine:

  • I bid farewell to my departed 2022 boys (Michael Mayer, Jacob Lacey, Houston Griffith and Prince Kollie)
  • I return Audric “Big Dric” Estime and call up Gabriel Rubio from honorable mention
  • Finally, I’m drafting Davis Sherwood, Holden Staes and Xavier Watts

[I’m not taking Sam Hartman, Benjamin Morrison or other players that I feel are too established, but I picked Estime last year before he had really proven anything so he gets to stay. Feel free to share your five boys in the comment section.]

And speaking of Estime, I owe him an apology. Notre Dame’s offense got off to a slow start against NC State, especially the offensive line. As a result, Estime was running into a brick wall at the line of scrimmage. I started thinking that maybe Jadarian Price was actually the best back on the roster right now since he showed better shiftiness and was gaining yards on later drives. (And to be fair, it’s been reported that the 2022 Irish offensive coaching staff thought then-true freshman Price might be the best back on the roster before his achilles injury). Then Estime broke off an untouched 80-yard touchdown run on the first play after the weather delay.

Big Dric finished with 14 carries for 134 yards and two scores. It’s a beautiful sight to behold when the big boys like him and Staes are pacing the Irish offense, at least until a wide receiver steps up. (And to be fair to the wideouts, Tobias Merriweather’s 45-yard catch-and-run will be overshadowed by that drive’s missed field goal, and Staes’ performance will probably overshadow true freshman Jaden Greathouse’s third touchdown catch of the season).

Lightning Strikes: The Secondary Shows Off

Seven passes broken up and three intercepted (plus three more that should have been picked off) by the Irish defensive backs. Talk about making a statement after barely being tested the first two games of the year. Morrison, Cam Hart and Thomas Harper all gave up at least one big play but each more than made up for it. Wolfpack quarterback Brennan Armstrong was seeing ghosts in a 22-47 (46.8%), two-touchdown and three-interception performance.

But it wasn’t just the corners. Safeties D.J. Brown and Xavier Watts each picked off a pass. Are you kidding me? Notre Dame safeties not named Kyle Hamilton who make game-impacting plays? Yes, please. Give me more.

We all know Ohio State comes to South Bend on Sept. 23, and whichever Buckeyes quarterback starts will likely be more precise (and certainly have better weapons to throw to) than Armstrong, but this Irish defensive backfield has a very good chance of living up to the billing in arguably the most important matchup of that game.

Obligatory Sam Hartman Talk

Notre Dame v NC State
Sam Hartman had thrown five touchdowns and six interceptions in his career vs. NC State. In his first rematch since joining Notre Dame, he went 15-24 (62.5%) for 286 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

You knew it was coming. But don’t worry, I promised this last week and I’m nothing if not a man of my word: I’ll stop screaming “caution” now that I’ve seen Hartman do what he does against quality competition. He might just be the real deal. “Uh, duh, Hayden. Didn’t you watch the first two games?” Yes, I did. But Notre Dame was playing Navy and Tennessee State.

Look, I’ve already said this, but I understand why everyone got so excited while watching Hartman in those first two games. He passes the eye test with flying colors, but you couldn’t point to his statistics against Navy as demonstrably better than what Ian Book, Jack Coan or Drew Pyne (for one half) did to the same team. And Tennessee State is an FCS team, so you had to take that performance with a grain of salt.

There was something I needed to see before buying into the hype that Hartman was the revelation everyone was making him out to be: against QUALITY competition, I needed to see Hartman make plays that Book and Pyne wouldn’t have been able to make because they either lacked the capability or the chutzpah, or both. Check that off the list.

I’ll admit, I had some doubts at the start of the game. In Hartman’s defense, his receivers weren’t doing him a lot of favors pre-weather delay, but I thought there might be some credence to the over-discussed struggles Hartman had with NC State during his time at Wake Forest. There was even a Drew Pyne-esque throw where Hartman had a wide open Staes and threw at his feet for an incomplete pass.

Then Hartman and Staes found a connection and Chris Tyree and Merriweather made big plays, plus the offense was opportunistic when it had chances to score. And, for the third straight game — but importantly, this time it was against QUALITY competition — Hartman led a masterful two-minute drill to end the half with a touchdown.

It wasn’t a perfect offensive showing by any stretch. Hartman has to curtail his fumbles, the offensive line needs to finish gelling and for the love of all things holy a wide receiver needs to establish himself as an alpha. That said, Hartman still hasn’t thrown an interception and he doesn’t panic in the pocket, even if sometimes he should probably show more urgency. Clean up the penalties and Notre Dame might have more than a punchers chance against Ohio State in two weeks.

Here’s looking forward to then (but not looking past Central Michigan...).