Oct. 9, 2016
By John Heisler
Notre Dame and NC State played a football game in wet and wild conditions Saturday in Raleigh, in the third consecutive outing for the Irish against an Atlantic Coast Conference opponent-and in Notre Dame’s first visit to the Wolfpack home stadium.
Here are some Irish takeaways from their 10-3 loss to the Wolfpack:
1. Weather trumps offense any day. Whatever gaudy statistics had been compiled previously by the Notre Dame and NC State offenses and quarterbacks DeShone Kizer and Ryan Finley, none of it meant a thing Saturday in the face of spillover from Hurricane Matthew. The rain poured down relentlessly from the time the Irish woke up at their team hotel until they boarded their charter flight home-and the ever-present wind gusts, which worsened significantly in the second half, made running any sort of conventional offense impossible. If Notre Dame thought it had carved out a way to play in wet conditions based on its success moving the football a year ago at Clemson (including 321 passing yards that night), the situation Saturday marked a completely different animal. How tough was the slog? After three periods Notre Dame had run 41 offensive plays and gained 45 net yards.
2. Give the Irish defense some credit. Each team’s defense played with a 12th man (and maybe a 13th and 14th) considering the weather, but applaud Notre Dame’s defensive troops for keeping NC State from scoring an offensive touchdown. Wolfpack back Matt Dayes gained 126 net rushing yards and wildcat quarterback Jalan McClendon ran for 56 yards (49 of it in the third period)-as the home team attempted only five passes (and completed only two) after the extended intermission. The Irish had five tackles for loss, forced three fumbles and recovered two (the first fumble recoveries of the year for Notre Dame). NC State’s two longest drives of the day-both for 51 yards-ended in fourth-down attempts that the Irish thwarted. Only twice all afternoon did NC State manage to hold the ball for longer than 3:19-and six Wolfpack possessions comprised nine yards or less allowed by the visitors.
3. The Notre Dame offense needs to finish. It sounds like a broken record, but Notre Dame’s offense has had late-game opportunities to change the outcome in all four Irish losses to date. Irish coach Brian Kelly noted as much in his postgame comments after his team finished the day with 113 total offensive yards-and with more than half of those coming on the final drive that ended on a fourth-down snap that went awry. As impressive as Notre Dame has been moving the football (especially through the air) in 2016, at least in dry conditions, the numbers haven’t always equated to victories. As Kelly has suggested, it’s one thing here and one thing there-and somehow the Irish need to find ways to make those late-game opportunities turn into celebrations.
4. Notre Dame is better than its 2-4 record, but the Irish don’t have much to show for it. The game of football is challenging because it involves the goal of getting 11 players at a time to play in sync, and that hasn’t been easy. “You win together and you lose together,” said Kelly after the game. “We’re looking for wins, not improvement on one side of the ball or the other. Although I was very pleased with our physicality, toughness and tackling, I’m just extremely disappointed in the offensive execution.” The Irish simply have had difficulty finding a way to mesh all the gears effectively over the course of 60 minutes of football. That will be the goal for the back half of the regular season.
5. The Irish don’t have it easy the rest of the way. Notre Dame’s remaining schedule ranks as the 15th-most difficult in the country. The half-dozen remaining Irish opponents are a 3-2 Stanford team (that has lost the last two weekends against Washington and Washington State), 4-1 Miami (the ‘Canes fell for the first time Saturday against Florida State), 4-1 Navy (coming off an attention-grabbing win over unbeaten Houston Saturday), 3-2 Army (the Cadets average 332.8 rushing yards per game), 4-1 Virginia Tech (the Hokies lead the ACC Coastal Division after dominating a ranked North Carolina team Saturday on the road) and 3-3 USC (a winner Saturday over a ranked Colorado team). Notre Dame’s six remaining foes stand a combined 18-10 (.643) against FBS opposition.
Notre Dame senior associate athletics director John Heisler has been watching Irish football since he joined the athletics communication staff in 1978.