NC State's Doeren: 'A lot to play for left in the season'
Consider the echoes woken. Consider the lesson from N.C. State learned.
Notre Dame and coach Brian Kelly learned the hard way in a loss to N.C. State last year: You have to run to win.
No. 9 Notre Dame did just that in a 35-14 win over No. 14 N.C. State on Saturday in a game that will propel the Fighting Irish into the College Football Playoff conversation.
Running back Josh Adams ran for 202 yards and a touchdown to set Notre Dame (7-1) up for a postseason run in November.
For N.C. State (6-2), it’s the end of a six-game winning streak and a step back after spending the better part of the last two months climbing up in the national polls.
The Wolfpack, which entered the game with one of the top run defenses in the country, couldn’t stop Adams and couldn’t run the ball itself. An ankle injury to Nyheim Hines derailed the Wolfpack running game, which finished with only 50 yards (compared to 319 for the Irish).
It was a year ago in Raleigh, during Hurricane Matthew, when Notre Dame suffered a 10-3 loss. It wasn’t just another loss in a lost season for the Irish, who finished 4-8.
Despite the weather conditions, Notre Dame attempted 26 passes and finished with 59 rushing yards (on 38 attempts) in that loss in Raleigh.
In part because of that game, Kelly turned over his coaching staff and rededicated the Irish to running the football this season. Twelve months later, Notre Dame finds itself back in the top 10 and in position for more.
N.C. State could not have asked for a much better start. The Wolfpack scored first, on a blocked punt, and led 14-7 – after a spectacular one-handed touchdown catch by receiver Kelvin Harmon – but the Irish ground game was too much.
Adams had 102 yards in the first half, and quarterback Brandon Wimbush ran for a touchdown, his 11th of the season.
With the defense focused on Adams, Wimbush had some room to throw the ball downfield. His 25-yard touchdown pass to tight end Durham Smythe at 9:36 in the first quarter tied the score at 7.
Smythe set up the Irish’s go-ahead touchdown with an incredible third-down catch along the Notre Dame sidelines for 11 yards.
Smythe somehow managed to reel in the pass from Wimbush and stay inbounds.
Receiver Kevin Stepherson matched Smythe’s tight-rope act with an 11-yard touchdown catch for a 21-14 lead at 5:30 in the second quarter.
N.C. State’s running game stalled without Hines. The junior running back turned his right ankle midway through the first quarter and didn’t play the rest of the game.
Without Hines, N.C. State tried to rely on Finley, who threw 37 times for 213 yards but also had his first interception of the season.
Penalties cost the Wolfpack, too. It racked up 11, for 74 yards, in the first half and finished a season-high 12 for the game. N.C. State did not have more than eight (also against South Carolina) until Saturday’s trip to South Bend.
N.C. State got on the board first with a blocked punt by James Smith-Williams in the Notre Dame end zone. Linebacker Germaine Pratt fell on the ball for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead.
It’s the second straight year N.C. State has scored on a blocked punt against the Irish.
Harmon made it 14-7 at 14:48 in the second quarter with a circus catch in the end zone.
Notre Dame scored the game’s next 28 points. Cornerback Julian Love extended the lead with a 69-yard interception return for a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half.
Adams salted it away with a 77-yard sprint at 4:11 in the third quarter.