Oct. 11, 2014 NOTRE DAME, Ind. - As North Carolina turned University of Notre Dame turnovers into a quick 14-0 lead, Fighting Irish running back Cam McDaniel saw the answer he wanted in the eyes of his teammates when the Irish offense huddled up for their next possession.
"We were frustrated about how we started out, but we were calm and resolute that this isn't us," said McDaniel, a 5-foot-10, 205-pound senior captain. "You just knew we were all thinking, we can win this game, and we're going to win this game."
No. 5 Notre Dame erased the 14-0 first-quarter deficit and rolled to a 50-43 college football victory against North Carolina at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish (6-0) hit the road to take on No. 1 Florida State (6-0) next Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. EDT. Scrappy North Carolina falls to 2-4.
Last week the Irish rallied for the go-ahead score with 1:01 left, and the defense stonewalled a desperate threat by No. 13 Stanford in the final seconds for a 17-14 victory. On Saturday the deficit was early, but the Irish again proved that when adversity hits, they hit harder. Notre Dame's comeback was its biggest since the Irish rallied from a 20-6 deficit in 2012 on the way to an overtime victory against Pittsburgh.
"This just speaks to the maturity of our team and where we're at to be able to rally back like that, even as quickly as we did," McDaniel said about the comeback against North Carolina. "We got down 14-0 quick, but we bounced back really quick. Offense stepped up when we needed to step up.
"Coach (Brian) Kelly said in the locker room after the game that last week we really had to rely on our defense to make big plays and help us get that win against Stanford. This week the offense had to step up and score a lot of points, because North Carolina had a dynamic offense and a lot of really good athletes. We did that today. Individuals stepped up. There were guys all over the offensive side of the ball making plays."
Cody Riggs, a 5-9, 185 cornerback, said the same composure was displayed by the Irish defense.
"There was no finger-pointing, no words, no frustration," Riggs said. "Everybody took ownership of their own mistakes. Everybody knew they could do better. We have to stop them if our offense happened to turn the ball over. Our offense came back and scored 50 points, so they helped us out a lot. You just have to answer when one of your teammates makes a mistake. I know I made a lot of mistakes, and my teammates had my back.
"We're a hungry team. Everybody has each other's back. We hold each other accountable. At the same time, when someone else messes up, you have to step in and make up for his mistakes. That's what happens. We made up for each other's mistakes, and we were able to pull about a victory."
Sheldon Day, a 6-2, 285 force on the defensive line, said the Irish pull together during adversity.
"It's a gut-check situation," Day said. "You have to dig deep and know what you're capable of, especially on defense. We kind of took a step back and assessed the situation and went from there. When you have a hole like that to overcome, you have to play as a team, and you have to click on all cylinders. We all had a want for a big play. On third downs, we had the mentality of getting them off the field by any means."
Mental focus helps the Irish counterpunch adversity. Christian Lombard, a 6-5, 311-pound right tackle, said the Irish never dwell on the previous play, no matter how that play went. The Irish stay focused on the present.
"What's special about this team, even going back to the Stanford game, we knew we were going to score, we were going to get 10 yards, we're going to get the first down, we're going to focus on the next play, and we're going to keep fighting. You're never going to be perfect in a game. Opposing teams are always going to play us tough. If you don't know how to face adversity, you're going to struggle."
Day said the way the Irish answered the bell every time against North Carolina will help when Notre Dame steps onto the turf in Tallahassee to play No. 1 Florida State.
"A game like this gets your mind prepared for what you're going to get into at Florida State," Day said. "Certain situations can occur, and you know you have to step up and come to play. We've preached all season about sticking together no matter what the situation is. You don't see us getting flustered, because you know we believe in our brothers."
As for McDaniel, he sees a precious mettle in what could be a golden season for the Irish.
"There's a maturity and an expect-to-win mentality, and that's what you see in great teams," McDaniel said. "I don't necessarily think it's a cockiness. I think it's a confidence that we possess that allows us to be successful."
-- by Curt Rallo, special correspondent