Oct. 5, 2016
By John Heisler
Check out reasons why Notre Dame’s football game Saturday at North Carolina State counts:
--There are three Atlantic Coast Conference sites at which Notre Dame has never played and North Carolina State’s Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh is one of them (the Irish also have never played at Virginia Tech or at Louisville). Notre Dame plays at Virginia Tech for the first time in 2018 and at Louisville for the first time in 2019.
--Notre Dame’s trip to Raleigh, maybe by coincidence or maybe not, comes exactly 50 years to the day after Carter-Finley Stadium played host to its first game in 1966. NC State will wear throwback uniforms to honor the occasion.
--There are three familiar names with both Notre Dame and NC State connections—Lou Holtz (he was head coach at both schools), Hunk Anderson (an All-America guard at Notre Dame under Knute Rockne, he went on to become head coach at both schools) and Clipper Smith (a unanimous All-American under Rockne, he became NC State head coach at age 27).
--NC State boasts the most productive offense of any team left on the 2016 Irish schedule. The Wolfpack averages 505 yards per game (21st nationally, compared to Notre Dame at #23 at 495.4). The next best Irish opponents from the remaining 2016 slate are Miami at 36th (474.3), Army at 47th (450.5) and Virginia Tech at 48th (449). The top figure of the dozen teams on the full 2016 Irish schedule is Texas’ 517.3 average (ranking 15th in NCAA FBS stats).
--NC State is the only remaining Irish opponent ranked in the top 50 in passing offense (the Wolfpack stands 28th at 297 yards per game). Other Irish foes for 2016 on that list are Syracuse (seventh at 370), Duke (33rd at 290.4) and Texas (50th at 256.3).
--The Irish defense must still contend with four opposing quarterbacks ranked in the top 19 in passing efficiency, including NC State’sRyan Finley (11th at 171.4). The others are Jerod Evans of Virginia Tech (fourth at 185.8), Brad Kaaya of Miami (12 th at 170.5) and Sam Darnold of USC (19th at 162.6). By contrast, Notre Dame’s DeShone Kizer is ninth this week at 175.4. Finley boasts a .724 completion percentage (fourth among FBS QBs) and is one of two ACC quarterbacks who has yet to throw an interception in 2016 (he has nine TD passes).
--Matt Dayes of NC State is one of three running backs on the remaining Notre Dame schedule rated 23rd or better in rushing yards per game. Those three are Christian McCaffrey of Stanford (13th at 121.3), Mark Walton of Miami (19th at 111.3) and Dayes (23 rd at 109.3). Notre Dame’s Josh Adams stands 91st at 68 per game.
--The Irish shouldn’t expect much help Saturday from the home team in the turnover category. NC State ranks tied for sixth nationally this week in turnovers lost with only three (two fumbles, one interception). The Wolfpack is one of nine 2016 Notre Dame opponents in the top 37 in the country in that category: #2 Nevada (one interception), #3 Army (one fumble, one interception), #6 NC State, #14 Miami, #23 Texas, and #37 (tie) USC, Stanford, Syracuse and Navy (six each). Meanwhile Notre Dame rates 108th so far in turnovers gained with four combined in five games.
--NC State as a team boasts the top passing efficiency figure of any team on the 2016 Notre Dame schedule at 172.36 to rank ninth nationally. Next are Miami (12th at 168.31), Army (31st at 150.87), Texas (41st at 147.64) and Navy (50th at 144.27). Notre Dame rates 13th in that category at 166.79.
--If punting comes into play Saturday, neither coach is worried. NC State’s A.J. Cole III averages 49.7 yards per punt--and the Wolfpack ranks third nationally in net punting at 47.1 each. Notre Dame’s Tyler Newsome averages 43.6 each. Cole has punted only 10 times in 2016—two times each in the first three NC State games.
--NC State is among the best teams in the country at third-down conversions, with the Wolfpack ranking second nationally at .549 (behind only Ohio State’s .571 figure). Notre Dame is 59th in third-down defense at .377.
--Yet another challenge for the Notre Dame defense? The Irish will be facing the first NC State team to gain 500-plus total yards in three of its first four games in a season. A year ago the Wolfpack gained 500-plus only three times all season.
--Expect a stern test Saturday for Notre Dame’s running game. NC State allows only 99 yards per game on the ground (ranked 13th nationally). That’s the best figure among 2016 Irish opponents other than Army, rated ninth at 87.5 per game. Other Notre Dame opponents are Virginia Tech 26 th at 113.5 per game, Miami 27th at 115.5, Duke 32nd at 119.2 and Stanford 37th at 125.
--NC State’s blockbuster October schedule includes a sold-out home game this week against Notre Dame, then road trips the following two Saturdays to play at unbeaten Clemson and at one-loss Louisville.
--Notre Dame’s three remaining October opponents stand a combined 10-2 (NC State and Stanford at 3-1, Miami at 4-0). Notre Dame’s seven remaining opponents are a combined 21-8 to date, including Navy, Army and Virginia Tech all at 3-1.
--Notre Dame running backs have yet to lose a fumble in 2016 after 125 combined carries.
--The Notre Dame-Syracuse game on ESPN earned a 1.4 television rating that, among the ABC/ESPN family weekend offerings, trailed Clemson-Louisville (5.5), Michigan-Wisconsin (4.3), Texas-Oklahoma State (2.4), Stanford-Washington from Friday night (2.0) and Alabama-Kentucky (1.9).
--Here’s the best of Brian Kelly from his Tuesday media briefing:
On the Irish defense-- “It was obviously frenetic last week in terms of trying to get organized defensively. I feel a lot more comfortable in terms of just organization, implementation, where we're going defensively. There's certainly a carryover from last week to this week in terms of what we'll be doing defensively. I think more than anything else we have a group of guys that are clearly excited about the prospects of where we can go. We hope to build on that. There's going to be some ups and downs and there will be some growing pains when you play freshmen. But I told my staff yesterday, and it will probably be the last time that I refer to that, going into now our sixth week, you're starting to get away from the freshman tag. These guys have been around long enough now that they know what to do. They're just lacking some experience, but they've got to go out and play. If we're playing them, we trust them. We believe in 'em, and they're our guys for right now and moving forward into the future.”
On defensive pressure— “I want to be careful that we don't get too caught up in the fact that we're not getting sacks. I want quarterback hurries and I want pressures. So that needs to be the focus. The vocabulary to me in that defensive room is pressures and hurries. If we can do that and play the kind of coverage that I want I'm going to be happy with the kind of pass rush that we get.”
On the offense— “I think we throw it very, very well. We've been given the opportunity--we miss a couple of open receivers or we throw for 550, 560 (against Syracuse). I've always wanted to throw it equally as well as running, and if you let us throw the football all over the field we're going to throw it and we won't run it as much. Are there things we can get better at in the running game? Absolutely. But we've been afforded the opportunity to throw the ball around the field. Teams have wanted to pressure our run game and I think a lot of that has been, ‘Look at all these young receivers they have, let's challenge them.’ Teams have, and we've been up to the challenge. If they want to keep doing that we have to keep proving that we can throw the football, and I think you'll see that running game come back into more balance.”
More on the defense— “Guys are settled in. They probably have a bigger trust factor and know what to expect. Look, anytime there is a (coaching) change of that magnitude during the season, everybody wants to say the right things, but still it's the proof. I think by the time we got to halftime and the way they played, I think there was that sense of, ‘This is going to work out pretty good.’ I think there is a bigger trust and understanding in knowing that we're going to be in pretty good shape defensively.”
On Greg Hudson— “He's high energy, really good with interpersonal communication skills, gets to know all players on offense and defense. His role right now is to be the catalyst for enthusiasm. He's jumping out of the cake at birthday parties, right? He's the guy! He's really embraced that and he's doing a great job for us.”
On Equanimeous St. Brown— “That receiver position is one within our formation makeup where you have to decide how you're going to play it. If you want to double it, you're vulnerable to the run. You don't have an extra fit to the run. If you go single coverage we're going to throw the ball to him. I spent a lot of time with him. I knew what he was capable of doing. We really had to, in some instances, force feed the ball to him in camp, get him a lot of touches, get him a lot of action and build his confidence that he was going to be a big part of what we did. He had early success, he maintained that--and I think we're starting to see that happen during the season.”
On his future working with the defense— “I'm going to be there quite a bit and I would think that's going to be the case most of the year. There's just a lot of decisions that still need to be made and, quite frankly, I need to continue to just see the overall workings of the defense and the personalities and the players. We're playing a lot of players that I want to continue to evaluate.”
On college culture: “We’ve got another really good team we're playing this week, and we just have to understand that it's hard to win. Just look at college football. Offenses are allowed to do a lot, it's cheating on offense right now. We're playing with a lot of young, inexperienced players and we're averaging 40 points and 500 yards. It's crazy! It's hard. There are so many things that put you in conflict on defense. As I've gotten to spend more time on defense it's hard, and so you've got to have something else going for you and that is you've got to have trust. You've got to have a belief. You've got to enjoy playing. You've got to have energy! If you don't have those special ingredients playing on defense, you're in trouble. You're in big trouble! If you look around college football right now, there are some great programs giving up a lot of points. There are some really good players on those defenses. So it's more than just scheme. It's more than just how many stars you got next to them. You've got to have other things going for you, and we're not going to lose that again.”
Senior associate athletics director John Heisler follows the Irish football program for Fighting Irish Media. Look for his Sunday Brunch piece on UND.com after the Irish game at North Carolina State.