What a difference a year makes, right? Last year, the Notre Dame Fighting Irish (7-1) got mowed down in hurricane like conditions at North Carolina State (6-2) as the Wolfpack won 14-3 in a sloppy and disastrous game for the Irish en route to a 4-8 record.
The Wolfpack came into South Bend sporting the #14 spot in the polls and a vaulted defense that had held opponents to 91.3 rushing yards per game against an Irish offense that is averaging 317.2 yards per game on the ground. Something had to give and early on it looked like the Irish may struggle against the Wolfpack defense. A couple of early sacks on quarterback Brandon Wimbush and a blocked punt in the end zone gave the Wolfpack and early 7-0 lead and silenced the Irish faithful.
The next drive was crucial for combating the momentum that the Wolfpack built. C.J. Sanders gave the Irish nice field position at their own 40 on the kickoff. Then running back Josh Adams dashed through the hole for a 35 yard run to the Wolfpack 25. The very next play, Wimbush connected with Tight End Durham Smythe for a 25 yard TD pass and a 7-7 score.
The teams traded punts on the next two possessions, on the ensuing drive, Wolfpack quarterback Ryan Finley led his team down field that culminated as he floated a beautiful pass to wide receiver Kelvin Harmon as Harmon skied to snag the TD. That was the Wolfpack’s longest drive of the game as they covered 71 yards on 7 plays and a 14-7 lead.
The Irish bounced right back with their longest drive as Wimbush and company mixed up passes and runs that concluded with Wimbush scoring his 11th rushing TD on the season and locking the score up at 14 all with just under 10 minutes left in the 2nd quarter.
The Irish defense then clamped down and forced the Wolfpack to another punt. The Irish then took over once again and covered 60 yards on 8 plays as Wimbush finding WR Kevin Stephenson for an 11 yard TD toss that was originally called out of bounds but then after further review was overturned to a TD, giving the Irish a 21-14 lead.
The first half is what was expected from two teams that are ranked in the top 15, the second half though was dominated by Notre Dame as the defense put the clamps down on Finley. The first series of the second half was highlighted by Irish defensive back Julian Love picking off Finley and dashing down the left sideline with a bevy of Irish defenders giving him a lane for a 69 yard pick six. That INT was Finley’s first in 339 attempts dating back to last year.
The second half Irish offense was led by junior running back and Heisman Trophy contender Josh Adams. Adams came into the game ranked 7th in the nation in rushing, he took the rock 27 times for an incredible 202 yards and another long touchdown run. His second 200 yard rushing day this year. The 77 yard touchdown run that Adams had came late in the third quarter and dashed the hopes of the Wolfpack as the Irish led 35-14 to close out the scoring.
Wimbush was very efficient throughout, connecting on 10 of his 19 passes for 104 yards, 2 TDs and zero interceptions. Wimbush also added 7 carries for 21 yards and the 1 score.
The formula for success of the 2017 Irish has been running the rock, playing hard nose defense, forcing turnovers on defense and taking care of the ball on offense. All of those put together has catapulted Notre Dame to a 7-1 record and as of this writing, the #5 team in the country.
Not to shabby for a team that at the beginning of the year had a first time starting QB, a coach who was on the hot seat and a handful of new coordinators. By the way, where have those “fans” wanting Kelly fired? Winning makes everything better.
Next up, a showdown on Saturday against Wake Forest.