For the first time during the 2022 football season, I was actually having fun watching a Notre Dame game. The Irish put together a performance that looked like who Marcus Freeman wanted them to be and it was very encouraging to see. Going into the bye week, Notre Dame improved to 2-2 overall with a 45-32 victory over the previously undefeated North Carolina Tar Heels. This game marked the Irish’s 25th straight regular season win over ACC opponents. Although only a one game difference, a 2-2 record just looks so much better than 1-3 and this win certainly brings some much-needed momentum for the team prior to a pivotal match up against BYU coming up in two weeks.
After a rather uninspiring start, Drew Pyne and Irish offense got rolling, finishing the game with 576 total yards and 35 first downs on 85 plays. Notre Dame was able to dictate the pace of play and dominate the time of possession. I thought that Tommy Rees called another fantastic offensive game, allowing Pyne to have success in the play action game and confusing the Carolina linebackers all day long. The Irish were able to run at will, racking up 287 yards on the ground with all three running backs averaging at least five yards per carry. Audric Estime was this week’s workhorse, getting 17 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns. The crazy thing is, with as good as the Irish offense looked, they still left at least 10 to 17 points on the field which would have skewed the final score even more. I understand that the North Carolina defense is nothing to write home about, but this was a great game for the Irish to get into an offensive rhythm and build some confidence and momentum for the remainder of the season. What impressed me most about the Notre Dame offense was when everyone in the stadium or watching on TV knew a running play was coming, the Irish were still able to get yards at will, looking unstoppable for the majority of the game. I loved the two running back sets and how efficient Notre Dame was in moving the ball (minus the first drive of the game). Michael Mayer continues to be a bright spot on the offensive side of the ball, and in my opinion, is creeping into Notre Dame Legend status before our eyes. Mayer finished Saturday’s contest with seven receptions for 88 yards and one touchdown, although his production seemed to be even higher than those numbers may suggest. To go along with Mayer’s outstanding performance, Lorenzo Styles became the first Notre Dame wide receiver to catch a touchdown pass this year – all incremental improvements in this facet of the game for the Irish.
The high-powered Tar Heels offense was held to only 60 offensive plays and Notre Dame’s defense looked outstanding on about 56 of those plays. The baffling stat line from Saturday’s contest was the fact that UNC had four pass plays that totaled 215 yards by themselves. There seemed to be a clear lack of communication and scheme breakdown on those four plays which is definitely something that will need to be corrected moving forward. Speaking of needing a correction, captain linebacker JD Bertrand will miss yet another half of football against BYU as he was hit with his second targeting penalty in as many games. Now, I don’t necessarily agree with this call as it looked like Bertrand led with his facemask, and as football is trying to regulate out these massive hits, one of the staple points in coaching defensive players is telling them to “see what they hit”. I’m not sure how much more JD could have seen because it was his facemask making contact with the Carolina player’s shoulder, not the crown of his helmet. Regardless, for this to happen to a captain in two separate instances in four games of the season, there needs to be an adjustment made.
This seems to be one of the earliest Notre Dame bye weeks that I remember in recent seasons and in my opinion, it came at the wrong time. Yes, it’s important for the players to have an extra week of preparation for BYU and to get treatment on any nagging injuries, but this is also right when both sides of the ball started to click on the field. Now, the positive spin of this is that this extra week gives Drew Pyne additional preparation and reps with the number one offense, something that I hope shows its benefits come the Shamrock Series game and beyond. Marcus Freeman and the coaching staff said that the players will continue to have practices throughout the week, not very much down time, and that the staff will utilize the extra time for game prep and recruiting. I am extremely glad that the Irish are sitting at 2-2 rather than 1-3 at this quarter point in the season and the upcoming Shamrock Series matchup will surely be intriguing. Be on the lookout for the BYU vs. Notre Dame preview to come out later next week. In the meantime, I hope everyone enjoys their bye week!