SOUTH BEND — Following three straight games of struggles from both the offense and defense, Notre Dame put out its strongest all-around effort out on the field in the team’s 45-32 road victory over previously undefeated North Carolina Saturday.
The offense racked up nearly 600 yards and 35 first downs with a strong mix of run from its trio of running backs in Logan Diggs, Audric Estime and Chris Tyree. In the pass game, Drew Pyne played mistake-free football, tossing passes to seven different receivers in the win.
On defense, the Fighting Irish held an offense averaging over 50 points and 500 yards per game coming into Saturday to 32 points and 367 total yards while racking up seven tackles for loss in the victory.
“Extremely happy for out group of guys and our coaching staff,” Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman said. “For the entirety of the game, we played really, really well. It was a challenge coming in for our offense to get the running game going, and it was a challenge for our defense to stop the run. The lowest amount of rushing yards UNC had through three weeks was 183. To hold them to just 66 rushing yards is a great accomplishment by our defense. Coach (Al) Golden did a great job in preparing this group.
“I’m really happy with how this team has progressed. That’s what I told them in the locker room. This is a football team that’s playing better and practicing better. That’s the challenge to continue to get better.”
PYNE, RUNNING BACKS LEAD OFFENSE
Last week, Notre Dame’s offense looked average at best with new quarterback Drew Pyne under center following the season-ending injury to Tyler Buchner.
However, Pyne, the running backs and the offensive line all played very well during the second half in the win over Cal, and that momentum clearly carried over into this Saturday’s road test against the Tar Heels.
Pyne limited his mistakes and distributed the ball beautifully for much of the game. The junior went 24-of-34 for 289 yards and three touchdowns on the afternoon, tossing TD passes to tight end Michael Mayer, wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. and running back Logan Diggs.
“It really came down to execution with him (Saturday),” said Freeman of Pyne. “You saw it last week, Drew makes the right decisions. Early in the game last week, he wasn’t executing in the way we he or we would want. (Saturday), he really put the ball where it needed to be and the guys around him made some plays.”
Helping Pyne be so effective throughout the day Saturday was the strong play of his offensive line and running backs.
After rushing for 76, 130 and 147 yards respectively through the first three games, the Irish broke out for 287 against the Tar Heels Saturday.
Estime led the way with 134 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries, while Tyree and Diggs combined for 130 yards and one touchdown on 25 carries.
Both Tyree and Diggs also made a big impact in the pass game, catching a combined seven passes for 89 yards and a touchdown.
Although UNC’s defense is one of the worst defenses in the country, it’s clear the Irish are trending in the right direction offensively heading into the bye week.
DEFENSE SHOWS UP AGAINST PROLIFIC OFFENSE
After surrendering a touchdown on its opening drive, the Irish defense did a superb job of slowing down UNC’s high-powered offense Saturday.
ND’s defense would only allow seven more points the rest of the first half, helping the Irish offense grow the team’s first half advantage to 10 after 24 points and 261 total yards in the second quarter alone.
The lead would swell to 18 after another strong defensive showing in the third quarter from Notre Dame.
The Tar Heels added a couple touchdowns in garbage time during the fourth quarter, but overall, it was another really good performance for the Irish defense.
UNC quarterback Drake Maye wasn’t very accurate (17-of-32 passing) because of strong pressure from the ND defensive line.
Wide receiver Josh Downs caught two touchdown passes, but overall, only had five grabs for 32 yards.
The defensive line also plugged up the run lanes across the line of scrimmage, with UNC starting running back Omarion Hampton only managing 28 yards on 10 carries. The team’s leading rusher was Maye with only 36 rushing yards on 13 attempts.
ND’s veteran defense — especially in the trenches — has stepped up mightily over the last two weeks during back-to-back victories.
“We knew we needed to stop their momentum early on,” said Notre Dame linebacker Marist Liufau of UNC’s offense. “I knew if we all did our job that eventually we’d succeed out there. We made sure to emphasize stopping their explosiveness at the wide receiver position for sure. We did a good job of that, and we did a good job of stopping their quarterback and running back on draw plays.”