Shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone, but Notre Dame absolutely owns North Carolina on the football field, now having won 19 of 21 in the series. Maybe the powers that be will decide that this one was actually Not A Big Win, since the Irish handled the previously high-powered UNC offense with such ease for so long — good teams don’t get shut out for an entire half at home! Tar Heels trash! — but whatever, that was a statement. It made me even more of a believer in this group; the Iron Bowl is kicking off as I type, so we’ll see how effectively Alabama handles Auburn, but this might just be the most complete, balanced team in the country. It doesn’t really matter, but dang, what else can these guys do to earn that #1 spot?
It was the first time the Heels were held below 26 points on the season, and their second touchdown was set up by a deep shot that only happened thanks to a truly egregious missed holding call. I was told that UNC had the best fourth quarter offense in the nation…lol! This defense is so nonchalantly suffocating, getting us nice and familiar with each opponent’s punters on a weekly basis. The turnovers aren’t breaking for the Irish, but they’re still wreaking havoc with abandon.
Shouts to Clarence Lewis for spelling the struggling Tariq Bracy so effectively (I barely notice this dude when he’s on the field, which is just about the highest compliment you can pay a freshman corner), and shouts to the rest of the maligned secondary two-deep (most notably Houston Griffith and D.J. Brown) for stepping up in Kyle Hamilton’s absence and lending support to a banged up Shaun Crawford. Hamilton’s ejection felt like a low point in the Irish season, and it ended up just not mattering at all. That doesn’t just speak volumes about how talented and cohesive this group is — it pretty much seals that they’re the best defense in the country.
This feels sort of silly to say, but does anyone else feel like they’ve somehow been watching these past few games with a chip on their shoulder? Between the obsessive Ian/Phil horseracing a couple Saturdays ago and the breathless Upset Alerts spilling into my timeline this week, I’d already had enough of supposedly well-informed analysts denying what they’d (maybe this is too hopeful) seen with their own eyes.
This is more general sloppiness than anything else, but ABC’s marquee crew got, like, four ND player names wrong yesterday. Kirk Herbstreit remarked that Ian Book looked “unsettled” in the first half, which, what? Is this what gaslighting is? There was at least one occasion where he bounced out of the pocket too early, and he wasn’t literally perfect, of course. But being dissatisfied with that performance or expecting any more from a college quarterback is genuinely ludicrous. I suppose we should simply stop caring if the conventional wisdom is in lockstep with what’s actually happening on the football field.
Ian Book Hive is having an absolute moment, y’all. There’s no need to take a victory lap about being “right” — it’s been clear for a long time that he’s a very good football player, duh — but I really do hope he gets his due, however that might come. Quarterback play at this level is exceedingly rare, and I will shout it from the mountain tops: THESE ARE THE GOOD OLD DAYS. RIGHT NOW.
The Heisman conversation is never worth the oxygen it eats up, but if it’s really a “great quarterback on a great team” award, well…hello! If he’s not a material part of the conversation, we might as well put the trophy in a black box and push it out to sea and never speak of it again. Oh, you want a hEiSmAn MoMeNt? Delivered in South Bend vs. Brent Venables and the number one team in the country. You want more Manziel-esque pizzazz? Here’s an objectively reckless backhand flip that succeeds against all odds to move the sticks. You want sustained excellence? He’s soon to be the winningest quarterback in school history. You want mistake-free football? He hasn’t thrown an interception in ages. HE HAS OPPOSING COORDINATORS DOING FULL ON BOBBY KNIGHT IMPRESSIONS ON THE SIDELINE. Give. The man. His due.
Notre Dame has the best coordinator pair in the country. That doesn’t even feel like a remotely controversial statement. What a world.
Tommy Rees is making magic every week — Kyren Williams is clearly feeling the wear and tear that comes with being RB1, and the line was missing two key starters, but they combined to finish the game by repeatedly mauling the Tar Heel front to seal the win. Michael Mayer remains a bad, bad man. Avery Davis didn’t make a mark, but no matter, because Joe Wilkins was willing and ready to step up. Ben Skowronek jet sweep touchdown? Sure, why not. Chris Tyree showed a burst we hadn’t really seen since early Autumn, a great sign for the coming stretch run. Tommy Tremble has to be the best skill player blocker in the country. The team’s FOURTH tight end made a crucial crunch time reception. Everything about this unit is absolutely beautiful.
Boy oh boy did that Tar Heel offense STINK in the second half. It was clear from the get-go that Irish fans should be quite confident, because Notre Dame’s defense is good, and Carolina’s is not. Simple stuff. But I did not expect…that. Usually in a game like this one, when a high powered offense is in a funk but remains within striking distance, there’s a voice in the back of my head that says something like “this is the drive where they break out, they’re just due for a score, can’t contain them forever.” Yesterday, that voice just…didn’t show. It did not ever feel like that was the case. Put Clark Lea in charge of the pandemic response, folks, the man knows how to lock down.
Marist Liufau is my defensive MVP of the day, pretty much without question. He played like his hair was on fire all night (especially dangerous for him of all people). There were plenty of tackling troubles in the early going (good lord is Sam Howell an absolute unit, that man does not go down easy), but Liufau helped keep the unit together through those struggles and kept delivering big play after big play. JOK was curiously quiet, but the combination of Liufau and Drew White meant that didn’t matter in the slightest. The lore of Clark Lea, Linebacker Whisperer only continues to grow.
I want to read thousands and thousands of words on the specifics of how Javon McKinley rescued his career and got himself to this point. Brain Kelly was right, he’s an absolute beast — on deep shots, on sideline toe taps, you name it. He’s a genuinely huge reason Notre Dame remains undefeated.
Michigan is the stinkiest garbage team on the planet, no one even cares that Southern Cal is playing football, and Notre Dame has won 15 games in a row. Bask in this glow, friends. No matter how this next month and change plays out, it’s been a delight.