Irish Offense Emerges at UNC

Notre Dame found a rhythm after a slow start and built a 45-20 lead early in the fourth quarter, only to get sloppy down the stretch before securing a 45-32 victory over North Carolina. The Fighting Irish physically dominated the Tar Heels after spotting them a 7-0 advantage in the first period. Audric Estime led a powerful ground game and quarterback Drew Pyne hit a few well-conceived scoring passes to wide open receivers to take control.

Notre Dame scored 38 points in 18 minutes from early in the second quarter through the first five minutes of the third. They scored on six consecutive possessions during that span. It was a breakout performance for the much-maligned offense although it came against a defense that was in disarray most of the afternoon.

Meanwhile, the defense harassed Carolina’s Drake Maye and the Heels could not keep pace with Notre Dame’s scoring surge. Trailing by 38-14, the porous Tar Heel defense finally stopped the Irish on a fourth down sneak late in the third quarter to stop the bleeding. Maye then hit Antoine Green on an 80-yard bomb to make it 38-20. Green ran by cornerback Clarence Lewis for the easy score.

Junior Drew Pyne had his best game in an Irish uniform

Pyne and Estime responded by leading a long march that ended with a Chris Tyree scoring plunge with 13 minutes left in the game. The contest should have been over at that point but an ugly sequence of bad football and numerous penalties was just beginning. Linebacker J.D. Bertrand, who sacked Maye and recovered his fumble on his first play back from suspension, was flagged for another targeting call on the ensuing series. The Tar Heels completed the drive to close within 45-26 after a failed two-point conversion attempt.

Ten minutes remained as Estime resumed chewing up both the clock and huge chunks of real estate. His final carry of this statement-making drive ended badly, however, when he fumbled the ball while trying to stretch it out over the goal line. Rather than take a 52-26 lead, Notre Dame had to put its celebration on hold.

Sure enough, the Irish secondary collapsed again when Carolina was about to take its last gasp. On a fourth down and 21 play, cornerback Cam Hart allowed Green to run by him for another too-easy 64-yard scoring reception. Notre Dame’s Brandon Joseph ended any Tar Heel hopes for a miracle finish when he recovered an onside kick moments later. The Irish then ran out the clock.

The sloppy finish put a damper on a breakout offensive performance over the first 47 minutes. Estime’s fumble, Betrand’s ejection and three late touchdowns by the Tar Heels proved that Notre Dame is still a work in progress with plenty of room for improvement. The good news is the team will have two weeks to clean up its mistakes and mental breakdowns before heading to Las Vegas to face BYU.

Other individual bright spots on defense were improved play of linebacker Marist Liufau, who acted as a spy on Maye for much of the time. Safety Xavier Watt had a good game as did slot cornerback Tariq Bracy. For the offense, Pyne had his best career outing and Michael Mayer was simply the most outstanding player on the field.

The Irish recorded 576 total yards in 85 plays, including 287 on the ground. Estime had 134 yards on 17 carries. Pyne was 24 of 34 for 289 yards and three scores. Notre Dame held the Tar Heels to 66 yards rushing.

Let’s look at the answers to our pregame questions.

  • Will Maye use his running ability to frustrate the Irish defenders? Only on the first drive of the game that resulted in a score. The Irish adjusted and punished Maye with hard hits the rest of the way.
  • Which team will win the war in the trenches? Notre Dame, and it wasn’t close.
  • Can the Irish wideouts make meaningful contributions? Lorenzo Styles had five catches and a touchdown while Jayden Thomas has a couple of receptions as well.
  • Will Foskey and the Notre Dame pass rush cool off Maye and his 74% completion rate? Definitely. Maye was a pedestrian 17 of 32. He threw for 301 yards but nearly half of them were gained on the two long scoring passes to Green. Blame Notre Dame’s inexplicable coverage breakdowns for those.
  • Can the Irish offense continue last week’s success on the ground? Absolutely. Estime led the way but Tyree and Logan Diggs were also effective. Even Pyne had a couple of good runs.
  • Will the young Tar Heel receivers get the better of the Irish secondary? Yes, but not often enough to make up for their Swiss Cheese defense. That said, the Irish secondary may be reverting to the mean after playing over its collective head in previous games.
  • Can Pyne have success throwing the ball downfield? Yes, especially on the play action touchdown pass to Styles that no one saw due to ABC’s lousy camera work.
  • Will Notre Dame’s defense finally force a turnover that counts? Ironically, it was Bertrand who made the play after negating one last week with a targeting penalty. Even more ironic is that Bertrand was flagged again for trargeting later. I believe it was a bad call but the referees are inclined to overreact on close plays.

There were some negatives in the way Notre Dame finished the game, but the mere fact that the team continued to establish a respectable offensive identity is a step in the right direction. I wouldn’t quite say the Irish offense is “explosive” but it was far more fun to watch today than at any time this season. BYU will be a better test but beyond that the schedule in October should allow this team to provide some enjoyment for fans who were close to abandoning ship just two weeks ago.

35 thoughts on “Irish Offense Emerges at UNC

  1. Hello John,
    Happy to see the offense put up more than 500 yards and the running game putting up close to 300 yards!! Little frustrated how the game ended. However, always a great weekend when the Irish win!!!!

  2. Funny how all of the naysayers are quiet. I especially liked the guy who predicted that ND would lose 45-23. I guess you didn’t pay attention to Vannie’s pre-game analysis that talked about what a shitty defense Carolina has. And, personally, if you respond I couldn’t care less what you have to say. Find another team and go bitch there.

    Great win for the Irish today.

  3. Ventura Pop Pop says:

    Did I not tell you that Drew Pyne was the man. I have been hoping since last season that he would be the starting QB. I am so looking forward to the rest of the season with him starting at QB.

  4. I’m thankful for each win as Pyne continues to build confidence and experience that I hope will prove valuable in tougher games later. I look forward to the day leadership emerges that allows ND to put less talented teams away when it has the opportunity to do so.

  5. The DC needs to be held accountable. A disturbing number of miscues from the defensive backs giving up huge plays at inexplicable times is emerging. Brings back shades of the Charlie Weis era.

    • Irish in the South says:

      Agreed. Our pass defense was the weak link Saturday. Must see improvement in Vegas against BYU, which has a strong passing game. At least we have an extra week to prepare.

  6. The Irish come thru in a season defining game. I like that alot of younge players are getting into the games. Prince Kollie showed he deserves more playing time. Defensive breakdowns need to be addressed. No more qb sneaks to pick up a yard. Offensive play calling showed a huge improvement in diversity. Overall, great victory. Go Irish

  7. No comments yet because there isn’t much to complain about? (Although those garbage time TDs we let up I could defintly complain about).

    Fully aware UNCs defense is terrible, I think we found our man under center. Pyne has a better feel for the game than Buchner and better pocket presence than we’ve seen since maybe Brady Quinn. We are also finding our identity. Run the ball, stop the run. If our DBs could focus for an entire game, no one will want to play us. USC and Clemson are clearly beatable. Go Irish!

    • “Better pocket presence than we’ve seen since maybe Brady Quinn.” Let’s not get ahead of ourselves, Pyne has played all of but a minute. I’m rooting for this to be the case but let’s see it before making these claims.

      Go Irish!

      • Coan would fold (literally) at the first sign of a pass rush. Book would take off running (don’t get me wrong, Book was great. But this was his well documented weakness). Gholson, Kiser, and Wimbush were similar. Pyne held firm and looked to multiple receivers as the pocket weakened. Even when chased he looked to throw. I’m not saying he’s better then those guys, but he’s already better in the pocket.

  8. Estime was unstoppable. Destroyed NC with his running. Not surprised, as I saw him play several times during his HS days against some of the best competition in the country. Should have had 3 TDs, but tried to do too much by trying to extend the ball over the goal line when it slipped out of his hand. A mistake of commission, which was not necessary, as he would have scored on the next play anyway.

  9. Notre Dame is not the power it used to be, but it is still Notre Dame, and North Carolina has never beaten us. With a big-time coach in Mack Brown, this was a statement game for them, but t’was not to be.

    An even balance between rushing and passing was good to see, but even more encouraging was the emergence (finally!) of a dominant offensive line, which we have been waiting for. There is nothing as encouraging as seeing a line dominate like that, and there is also nothing as depressing for a defense as being pushed aside like that, play after play, especially when you know what’s coming, but you can’t stop it. In the 3rd & 4th quarters, especially the 4th, NC knew they were getting a butt-kicking in front of their own fans, which IMO is the biggest reason it got so chippy.

    There is obviously much to be done – We should have scored in the 50s and they should have been in the teens, but this was encouraging to watch.

    A work in progress.

  10. This is a good win for the team but like Vannie I’m also bothered by the 4th quarter sloppiness that allowed NC to simply score at will on two occasions. USC will have a field day if Golden and the position coaches don’t clean those things up.

    Estime’s carelessness with the football cost us one touchdown and could have cost a second in the first half when he stuck it out to break the plain of the end zone among the waving arms of NC defenders. It could have gotten slapped out of his hands.

    This win is something to build on and 2-2 is better than 1-3. Credit Tommy Rees with great preparation and play calling, but the NC defense played like it would rather be somewhere else. ND needs to get more receivers involved in the offense and if they can do that perhaps things will turn out much better than some of us thought.

  11. It was a great win and a really wonderful explosion by the offense. The secondary giving up long passes however is going to need to get fixed as we do face very good quarterbacks coming up on our schedule. Tommy Rees finally called a reasonable game but I will bring up one minor point. On fourth down and 1 yard to go Rees called a quarterback sneak for a frail quarterback when big number seven was in the backfield. That my mind was the only really stupid boneheaded thing Rees did yesterday. In most games there are 10 or 15 things that he does that are like that.
    Overall, it was good to see the offense get on track. Now Al golden needs to show us that he has learned something since his dismal coaching days in Miami. Fix the secondary please.

  12. It was good to see the Irish win a game decisively against a team they should beat (Marshall?). I don’t want to minimize the victory but UNC’s defense was disorganized and just pitiful. The team is growing and with Clemson and USC struggling yesterday maybe there is hope yet for a solid season.

    • The win over NC is encouraging, but please remember NC is, imo, not even a top 20 team. Late td’s show a lack of killer instinct, that’s a coaching flaw, and , if you want to be elite, inexcusable.

      Agree that Pyne can distribute the ball accurately, to the right guy, short snd mid range, His pocket presence is solid. There’s a reason Saban offered him in 8th grade.Lot’s to work on to get better, and l believe they will continue to improve!” 1 game at a time. GO IRISH.!

  13. Irish in the South says:

    Vannie, what did you think of our offensive play calling? You did not mention Tommy Rees in your analysis. I see where Drew Pyne gave Rees all the credit for the success of the offense.

    • After a poor start, Rees got on a nice roll. He had some head scratching moments later on but most everything was working against this defense. I did not like the quarterback sneak call where Pyne tried to run behind Correll, who was giving up 40+ pounds to the UNC nose tackle. The smarter call would have been an Estime run to the left behind Alt and Patterson. I would even have preferred a play-action shot downfield. Someone would likely have been wide open.

      My biggest issue with Rees is the lack of flow to his playcalling. It seems herky-jerky at times and he just kills some drives by trying to pass too much. He’s still got a lot of the Kelly influence in him, but that’s his only real base of experience. Hopefully he will continue to evolve this year but the defenses we play in November will eventually require it.

  14. The 3 magic words – “imposing our will”. Football is a game of physical domination, and to quote the old cliche – every game is won or lost up front. If our big guys knock their big guys on their butts time after time after time, the war will be won.