Second-seeded Notre Dame passed one of the final toughest tests of the season, climbing up in defense after the break of the first half and extending another excellent performance from Ian Bock to a 31-17 win at No. 19 in North Carolina.
It was a game that had a penalty shootout early on, with only one kick and four touchdowns in the first quarter. But this start 14-14 proved to be the turning point in a match won by Notre Dame, relying on its defense and the ground game to lead the way in the holdings of the decisive second half that decided the match.
Ian Book completed 23 of 33 passes for 279 yards and landings with a quick 48 yards in eight attempts. In addition to his quick directing, there were several plays preserved through his ability to dodge North Carolina defenders in the back court, extend play and keep his eyes on the court. The book was so full of confidence that he was pulling backs of hand throws in third place deep in his zone, introducing “How did he do that?” It highlights the game-changing gameplay ball during the last three matches.
“It’s just confidence, honestly. I have a lot of fun. You don’t want to do that much, but I trust Mike.” [Mayer]ESPN said after the game, “book.
The ground bout took over the responsibility when it was time to close the win in the second half, and Keren Williams finished 124 yards in 23 attempts with 47 yards, possibly one of the playoffs in the game. But if we collect the reasons for Notre Dame’s victory, it will be thanks to the defense that forced the second half to close against one of the best offenses in the country.
North Carolina midfielder Sam Howell was limited to just 211 yards on 17 of 27 passes with two touchdown sets (one pass, one lunge), and Tar Heels’ offense as a whole was limited to just 78 yards at 3.1 yards per game after halftime. The North Carolina offense averages over 550 yards per game but ended up with less than 300 yards offense after getting stuck in the mud during that second half.
All of North Carolina’s best notable events came early, like Emery Simmons going for Randy Moss on a first quarter landing.
Notre Dame’s domination of the melee streak after halftime not only highlights its great strength this season, but also the identity that Brian Kelly and his staff have helped cement over the past four years. Veteran defenders like Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji have spent years working on their craft and developing them physically to the point where they are ready to dominate at the point of attack.
Three things to note about the game:
1. Ian Book should be in the Heisman Trophy
Sometimes, Heisman voters like to have roles, as if the race for a hard arm award needs different characters in a TV series. There will be some candidates with an elite statistical profile, like Kyle Traske from Florida, but there is room for voters to gravitate toward a candidate like Bock who is just a “winner.” Leading one of the country’s last unbeaten teams with some of his best in soccer against ranked opponents is a good start, and if Heisman’s moments are needed, he has given a couple not only with his back passes in third place but with the creativity to extend play in the relegation Early as well.
2. The defense of the United Nations Command responded to the appeal as well
Tar Heels’ defense allowed large yard totals and plenty of points per season, but he did a good job maintaining his strength against the Irish as well. Led by Jay Bateman, this is a squad that has been inexperienced and messed up a bit during the year. They are starting to enjoy better health and more experience as we enter this final part of the season, and it is worth noting that with the start of their strong attack in the third quarter, the North Carolina defense did a good job from the field position and brought the ball back to Howell for more chances to score.
3. The road to the playoff game
By defeating North Carolina, Notre Dame not only moved to 9-0 but with two matches left to win on the schedule with Syracuse at home and Wake Forest on the road ahead of the ACC Championship game. With an 8-0 win over Clemson and North Carolina, the Irish are one win away from their place in that championship match and two wins out of the prospect of finishing first and second in the College Football Playoff standings in the Conference Championship on Saturday. If Notre Dame is undefeated on the way to the rematch with Clemson, they have a good chance of being able to retain their top four spot regardless of the outcome based on current qualifying expectations. Much remains to be decided, including those matches against Syracuse and Wake Forest, but being unbeaten on December 19 is a great way to reach the fourth round when the selection committee makes its final decisions on December 20.