Though the game could’ve certainly been much closer than the final score indicates, Notre Dame won the most important battle—the ground game—en route to winning what didn’t turn out to be much of a war against NC State in an elimination game for the college football playoff. The Irish ran roughshod on the Pack, gaining 318 yards on the ground in a 35-14 final from South Bend. The Pack, who lost their most explosive rusher and special teams player, Nyheim Hines, early in the game to an ankle injury, managed just 50 yards rushing. It’s a little more complicated than that, as the bullets will show, but, in a nutshell, that’s your ballgame.
There was very little good, plenty of bad, and one play I found egregiously ugly in NC State’s first ever loss to the Irish.
· James Smith-Williams rejected a punt that Germaine Pratt recovered for his second touchdown of the season. Alas, if there had only been a hurricane to make a blocked punt TD the only TD of the game.
· Reginald Gallaspy the second, pressed into extended action due to the Hines injury, picked up a blitz, allowing Ryan Finley to drop a dime on Kelvin Harmon, who one-handed a TD on a fade route to put the Pack up 14-7.
· Harmon is a stud. He caught seven balls for 97 yards and is up to 644 yards receiving on the season.
· Jaylen Samuels made a nice sprawling catch for 18 yards and a first down and had a 58-yard kick return while spelling Hines.
· Bradley Chubb did Bradley Chubb things, tallying eight tackles that included three TFLs and a sack. Causing havoc was not an issue for the Pack defense; they recorded nine tackles for a loss.
· Jerod Fernandez made 13 tackles, including 1.5 TFLs.
· A.J. Cole was called on far too often, but he produced. The Pack punter averaged 44.5 yards per punt—he had eight of them—and placed three inside the 20.
· Oh god I’ve resorted to punting in “the good” section.
· Yes, this section is far too short. And that’s kind of indicative of the outcome.
· Whatever momentum was gained from the blocked kick six was quickly dashed when Notre Dame took the ensuing kickoff out to the 40 and scored on a mere two plays. With the wind at Kyle Bambard’s back, why wasn’t he putting the ball in the end zone for a touchback?
· For all of State’s disruptiveness, it simply could not keep from getting gashed, especially by Josh Adams, who had a 35-yard run in the early game-tying drive and cemented his Heisman candidacy with 202 yards rushing. That total included a 77-yard TD to pretty much deliver the KO late in the third quarter.
· Adams was the first back to go over 100 yards against the Pack this year, and he did it in the first half.
· Notre Dame benefited from a mystery pass interference call that even the homer Domer announcers said should’ve been let go in its drive to take a 21-14 lead at intermission.
· In sum, State was flagged a whopping 12 times for 89 yards. The team came in averaging just 5.3 penalties per game.
· Hines and Justin Jones, State’s most disruptive interior lineman, left with injuries and did not return. Both would seem questionable at best for the Clemson game.
· Dave Doeren elected to punt on 4th and three from the 37. Granted, it was a tie game in the first quarter, but, in hindsight, that was an especially poor choice given the offense’s epic struggles. State managed just one offensive touchdown and averaged just 3.5 points on its trips inside the 40. It looks extra pathetic given how hard points were to come by, but it’s always a bad decision. DO NOT PUNT INSIDE THE 40. EVER. DO NOT DO THIS. LOOK AT YOUR FANCY ADVANCED METRICS CHART FOR CHRISSAKES.
· Did I mention offensive struggles? The Pack managed just 263 yards and finished -1 in turnover margin.
· Finley tossed his first interception of the season, a pick six that made it a two-score game. That’s ugly all by itself, but it’s especially ugly since a Notre Dame lineman jumped and was in the neutral zone. Since the entire offense didn’t bother to even try given the assumed offsides, Finley has to chuck the ball into the stands. There was nothing there. Just spike it. THROW IT AWAY. DO NOT LOB IT TO THE OTHER GUYS.
· It was an inexplicable throw, but the PI that set up the third Irish TD and the no-call on the offsides that gifted the Domers a two-score lead were major turning points in what otherwise looked like a game going down to the wire.
I don’t want to come off as a “blame the refs” guy here. Notre Dame was clearly the better football team Saturday, and, Chubb’s exploits notwithstanding, the veteran Irish offensive line dominated the trenches. But, much like the week one loss, there are so many what ifs. What if Hines didn’t get hurt? What if Jones didn’t get hurt? Does State get off the field without that horrid PI? What if the Irish are flagged for jumping offsides?
But as you wake up to your hangovers this Sunday morning, bereft of college playoff dreams, do take solace in the fact that the Pack are 4-0 in ACC play. Beat Clemson and State can stumble to a 1-2 finish in league play and still make the conference title game. And it’s not like we didn’t beat the national champs on their home turf last year—ugh, well almost. There’s still a lot to play for.