by John Vannie
Dexter Wright scooped up a blocked punt and raced into the end zone with the game’s only touchdown as North Carolina State defeated Notre Dame by 10-3 on Saturday in simply awful weather conditions. The Wolfpack dominated the game throughout, but neither team was able to capitalize on even one of many opportunities until Darryl McKeever got his hand on a Tyler Newsome punt with 12:43 remaining. The Irish fell to 2-4 on the season with Stanford coming to town next week, while State rose to 4-1.
Coach Brian Kelly confounded and frustrated the Irish fan base by ordering up pass play after pass play when it was obvious that the high winds and driving rain dictated a ground based strategy. NC State outgained Notre Dame on the ground by 187-78, with Matt Dayes accounting for 126 yards on 23 carries. Roughly half of the rushing yards for the Irish came on their final drive, but a poor snap on a fourth and eight play at the Wolfpack 16 yard line ended the bid by Notre Dame to tie the score.
The number of bad snaps, bobbles, windblown passes and fumbles were too numerous to count on a day where no game should have been allowed to start, but the loss cannot be considered a fluke because NC State’s coaching staff did a better job of adjusting to the conditions. The Wolfpack ran the ball 46 times and attempted only 14 passes, completing seven for 41 yards. The Irish ran 36 times and threw 26 passes, but many of DeShone Kizer’s 15 rushing attempts came on aborted pass plays. Kizer completed only nine passes for 54 yards and had one interception in the red zone on a wind-blown throw.
State had the upper hand early despite a strong wind in its face. Solid running set up field goal attempts on their first two drives, and Kyle Bambard connected on the second try for a 3-0 lead. Notre Dame could not generate any first half points, but did have a few good chances in the second period. A poor punt by the Wolfpack gave the Irish excellent field position, but they fumbled the ball away with a bad snap at the State 23. When freshman Julian Love recovered a fumble on the next play, it looked as though Notre Dame would score as Kizer brought his team to the Wolfpack six yard line. From there, the play sequence went false start, sack, incompletion and interception.
With the wind at their backs in the third quarter, the Irish were handed a few golden chances by NC State. The Wolfpack punter went to a knee to field a snap on the opening series of the second half, giving Notre Dame the ball on the 25 yard line. The Irish were unable to make progress from there, but Justin Yoon drove a 40-yard kick over the crossbar for a 3-3 tie.
Two plays later, an NC State fumbled the ball to Notre Dame at the 22, but a sack and three incompletions squandered the opportunity. Reserve quarterback Jalan McClendon, a powerful runner, entered the game for the Wolfpack and drove his team to scoring territory. A third down play inside the five yard line blew up when Dayes missed the pitch back and ended up with a 15 yard loss. Bambard came on to attempt a field goal, but the holder could not handle the high snap and the Irish dodged a major bullet.
The third quarter ended with more of Kizer’s passes hitting the ground as Kelly refused to let his offensive line take control. Wright’s touchdown followed shortly thereafter, and an Irish fumble on the next series made matters look even more bleak. Notre Dame’s defense, which played quite well with the knowledge that State was going to run the ball on nearly every play, held once more to set up a final chance for the Irish offense. Kizer took the team on his back as they gained 64 of their 132 total yards in this decisive drive, but two incompletions and a two yard scramble set up the fateful fourth and eight miscue.
As Kelly read the riot act to center Sam Mustipher on the Notre Dame sideline, the Wolfpack took the field to run out the clock.
Let’s review the answers to the pregame questions:
Which offense will be most effective in the red zone? Both teams had one trip to the red zone and ended up going backwards with no points scored.
Can the Irish offensive line control the active NC State defensive front? No. The running game never got traction and Kizer was hit hard far too many times.
Which special teams will dictate field position? Special teams were the story of the game, although the wind often had much to do with success or failure. There weren’t any excuses on the blocked punt, however, and that was all she wrote.
With the potential sloppy conditions, which team will manage to avoid costly turnovers? Neither team was immune to critical miscues, but the Irish brought pain upon themselves by trying to run so many pass plays.
Which of these much-maligned secondaries will raise their game? The edge goes to NC State, whose defensive backs were challenged more strenuously on the afternoon and accounted for a few impressive pass break-ups at key moments.
Can Notre Dame’s defensive line make a positive contribution? They allowed only three points all day and had many excellent series, but faltered against the run on a few occasions that proved costly.
Which team will run the ball more consistently? NC State, by a wide margin.
Do I really want to spend four hours of my weekend watching a B-level disaster movie? That’s exactly what it was, and to think I could have played golf in sunny and 80 degree San Diego weather. UGH!
At the end of the day, this game illustrated why the Kelly regime at Notre Dame should conclude at the end of the season. The Irish coach had a poor game plan for the conditions, and the considerable athletic talent on the roster is being squandered due to poor schemes and terrible fundamentals. Dissenters will predictably come back with, “Who are you going to get that is better than Kelly?”, but the fact is that a dead cat would be 4-2 with this team and there are indeed plenty of candidates out there if Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick and the University Administration emerge from their state of denial and do what needs to be done.