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Stifling Defense Halts Heels

In another impressive performance on Friday night, the Irish continued to take care of business against another ACC opponent – this week’s being North Carolina.  Notre Dame improved to 9-0 on the season after a 31-17 victory.  After an extremely fast start for both offenses, it was Notre Dame’s stifling defense that held the Tar Heels scoreless in the second half.  It was another well rounded performance by the second ranked Irish that helped them remain undefeated during this 2020 season.

Offensively, this was another very balanced attack for the Irish.  Quarterback Ian Book completed 23 of his 33 passing attempts for 279 yards in the air and one touchdown.  Book’s ability to make plays out of seemingly nothing has been absolutely incredible – a major factor in Notre Dame’s offensive success.  Although he may not be getting the same talk as other top program’s quarterbacks, Ian Book is somewhat quietly putting together a Heisman-like season.  Not only can this be credited to Book’s maturity and skill improvement, but the unsung “hero” might be Notre Dame’s first year Offensive Coordinator, Tommy Rees.  Rees’s ability to relate to Book as a former Irish quarterback himself, seems to have provided Book with more confidence and a deeper understanding of his strengths within the Notre Dame offense.  With the Irish having to replace two starters on the offensive line this past week, it was another testament to the Irish’s high-level recruiting when “back ups” were able to step in and perform to an elevated level.  Running behind this dominant offensive line, running back Kyren Williams put up another spectacular performance himself.  Williams finished the contest with 23 carries, 124 yards on the ground, and two touchdowns.  This was balanced out by Javon McKinley hauling in six receptions for 135 yards in the air.  The threat of both of these athletes forced the Tar Heels’ defense to remain honest, allowing for Notre Dame’s superior talent to reign supreme.  

Going back to Ian Book’s ability to make plays, two key instances stuck out.  The first was on a low snap in which Book backpedalled, scrambled away from defenders, and found Kyren Williams for a touchdown.  This was a play that very easily could have resulted in a substantial loss of yards or even a turnover.  Book’s cool and calm demeanor not only helped during this play, but has helped the Irish prevail in numerous situations this entire season.  The second play worth reviewing was Book’s no-look flip to freshman tight end, Michael Mayer.  Making up one of Mayer’s four receptions on the day, this was not only a Patrick Mahomes-like throw by Book, but an impressive catch thanks to Mayer’s football instincts.  Mayer was able to come back to the ball, fending off any Tar Heel in the area, ensuring positive yardage for the Irish.  

Defensively, holding the explosive North Carolina offense to only 17 points is nothing to be overlooked.  This was an offense that came in with playmakers all over the field, having put up 40 or more points in five of their first eight games.  North Carolina’s two biggest contributors, running back Michael Carter and wide receiver Dyami Brown, were held to under 100 total yards each.  Carter was only allowed 57 yards on eight carries while Brown hauled in four passes for 84 yards in the air.  This was a true testament to the skill on Notre Dame’s defensive side of the ball.  After losing star safety Kyle Hamilton to a targeting call late in the second quarter, to say that I was worried about Notre Dame’s pass coverage would be an understatement.  Hamilton’s ability to lead the defense and eat up ground while covering these highly talented athletes is something that any good defense needs.  The Irish secondary surely stepped up in his absence, not allowing a single Tar Heel point to come int he second half.  As I gave praise to Offensive Coordinator Tommy Rees earlier, equal praise needs to be give to Notre Dame’s Defensive Coordinator, Clark Lea.  Lea’s ability to make defensive adjustments was on full display on Friday.  Yes, the Tar Heels came out fast, scoring two touchdowns in the first quarter – showing how dynamic they could be.  His leadership and adjustments are second to none and have been another key contributing factor towards the Irish’s success. 

In light of the recent news from the ACC, which will be covered more in the upcoming preview article, the Irish only have one regular season game remaining before playing in the ACC title game.  With Syracuse looming on the horizon, the Irish will look to remain undefeated after Saturday’s contest.