The Notre Dame Fighting Irish’s rout of USC last week changed more than the Irish’s national ranking with a climb into the top 10. The Irish are no longer underrated.
Old Notre Dame historically has received the benefit of doubt if not overrated, but a 5-1 start this season wasn’t enough to climb higher than No. 13. The Irish needed to drub USC 49-14 before a prime-time television audience to climb four spots to No. 9 in this week’s Associated Press poll.
Instead of talk surrounding head coach Brian Kelly on the hot seat, it’s shifted to Notre Dame’s path to a College Football Playoff berth.
The Irish’s USC performance caught the attention of Steve Logan, the longtime college and NFL coach with a popular radio and TV shows in Raleigh, N.C. He had been looking ahead on his Saturday radio show and Sunday TV show with Adam Gold to North Carolina State’s game against Notre Dame on Saturday in South Bend. The Wolfpack (6-1) are No. 14 and coming off a bye week.
On Logan’s Saturday morning radio show, he went into detail on how evenly matched the teams were on paper. He cited the total offense and defense stats were close enough for the game to be considered a tossup.
By his Sunday TV morning show, his tune changed.
“It was sobering for me,” Logan told his audience. “I tore apart numbers on Notre Dame and N.C. State on paper and it was dead even. It really is. But what I saw (Saturday night) was a physical, big-hitting Notre Dame football team. This will be a supreme challenge for N.C. State to pull off.”
Notre Dame is ranked 19th nationally in total offense with 479.9 yards a game and N.C. State 24th at 467.4. In total defense, Notre Dame is 42nd at 361.4 and N.C. State 54th at 378.3. In turnovers, Notre Dame is a plus-10 and N.C. State a plus-8.
Notre Dame’s most impressive stat is its rushing attack averaging 317.9 yards a game to rank sixth in the nation. Four of the teams ahead of the Irish are triple-option offenses: Navy, Georgia Tech, Army and Air Force.
But Logan thinks N.C. State can turn Notre Dame’s strong running game to its advantage. The Wolfpack have one of the top defensive lines in the nation, led by projected first-round draft pick Bradley Chubb at defensive end. The Wolfpack are ranked sixth, allowing only 91.3 yards a game.
“It can happen,” Logan said of an upset. “Notre Dame is generating 470 yards a game — 300 on the ground. That’s good news from this standpoint for Dave Huxtable, the defensive coordinator at N.C. State: He can bring his safeties in to stop the run. It’s easier to bring the safeties to stop the run and make somebody beat you throwing the ball as opposed to the other way around. This is where N.C. State has an advantage.”
An advantage, that is, if quarterback Brandon Wimbush doesn’t find the accuracy he was known for as a highly recruited high school quarterback.
He found it for two first-quarter touchdown passes and a 14-0 lead. Wimbush, a first-year starter as a redshirt sophomore, hit Equanimeous St. Brown on a crossing pattern in the back of the end zone for a 26-yard touchdown toss and Kevin Stepherson for a 23-yard score with a back-shoulder throw in the right front corner of the end zone.
Both throws drew raves from Doug Flute, the 1984 Heisman Trophy winner who serves as NBC’s analyst for Notre Dame games.
But overall, Wimbush is still searching for consistency. He was only 9-of-19 for 120 yards with the two TDs and no interceptions.
For the year, Wimbush has completed only 51.7 percent of his passes. He’s 78-of-151 for 902 yards with eight touchdowns and two interceptions. In today’s pass-oriented college game, quarterbacks need to complete 60 percent of their passes.
But so far Wimbush has kept teams off balance with his legs. He has run from the pocket to score 10 touchdowns and average 84.7 yards per game.
USC was unable to line up physically against Notre Dame. How Notre Dame handles N.C. State’s physical defensive line and Wimbush’s passing game ceiling may decide this game.
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