Play of the DayOn what appeared an innocuous Notre Dame punt with the hosts trailing 36-35 late in the third quarter, North Carolina linebacker Norkeithus Otis was flagged for roughing Irish long-snapper Scott Daly. The 15-yard penalty -- on 4th and 18 from the Notre Dame 37-yard line -- resulted in 15 yards and an automatic first down.
The Irish scored 11 plays later, and with the ensuing two-point conversion, took a 43-36 lead they never relinquished.
Said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of the call, "We had alerted the official on what we thought were a couple of occasions that we thought were overt. Overt. They actually communicated to us that they had seen it as well and if they would see it again, they were prepared to make the call."
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora elected not to comment initially, then was pressed for Otis' reaction.
"He just said, 'I don't think I hit him too early. I know his head was up, I know I didn't hit him to early.' But it didn't get called that way."
The teams combined for 170 penalty yards on 19 infractions including six pass interference calls (three apiece) with three in the end zones.
Offensive MVP: Tarean FolstonPosted a season-high among Irish runners 98 yards on 18 carries -- the latter also the high mark for 2014 -- scoring three touchdowns, one via the pass where he added five receptions for 71 yards, both also career-bests.
It was Folston's 37-yard gain on a middle screen that got the Irish offense rolling after it trailed 14-0 near the midway point of the first quarter.
"Man, that got everybody juiced up," said Folston. "After that, I was yellin'. I was just 'krunk.' And I feel like that energy hit the whole team."
Folston's first touchdown Saturday likewise marked his first of the season to date, running it in untouched from the Tar Heels 6-yard line. His second and third came by reception and by rush, respectively, the former providing Notre Dame a 43-36 lead it would never relinquish; the latter the icing on the cake for a 50-36 lead with 2:19 remaining.
"I feel like I was patient tonight, waiting for things to set up," said Folston. "That goes to a lot film study also. I just wanted to play, man. "The offensive line was great today. Kudos to them. I love running behind those guys. I'm excited."
Said Folston with a smile of his emergence in the passing game, "Hey man, I can do it all. You give me the ball, I'm going to make things happen."
Folston's 169 yards from scrimmage is the most by a Notre Dame running back since Theo Riddick's 173 yards (146 rushing) at USC to conclude the 2012 regular season.
Offensive Game BallsSophomore Will Fuller led the squad in receiving yards for the fifth time this season; in receptions for the fourth, producing a career-high 133 yards on seven receptions with two touchdowns. The scores were his sixth and seventh of the season and marked the fifth time in six 2014 contests that he's hit pay dirt at least once.
Fuller drew three pass interference penalties including two on consecutive snaps to fuel Notre Dame's game-clinching drive.
"Me personally, I didn't think it would be this type of game but Coach (Kelly) talked about it all week. He said their offense is real good so we're going to have to put up points. It turned out that way."
Said Kelly of the notion that Fuller is the team's No. 1 receiver, "I think right now he's kind of emerging as that 'big play' guy. I think we're looking toward him a lot more. But we have other pieces that really complement him as well. I don't think he can stand out there by himself…he definitely possesses the skills that have put him in the position that he is right now.
"But he needs complimentary receivers around him. He can't take over the game by himself."
Aside from Folston's aforementioned five receptions, no Irish player caught more than two passes Saturday. Quarterback Everett Golson connected with nine different targets after hitting either seven or eight in each of the team's five previous contests.
-- Quarterback Everett Golson suffered through three more turnovers -- his seventh, eighth, and ninth over the last three contests -- but battled back to throw for 300 yards and three scores despite facing heavy pressure throughout the contest.
One week after setting a program-record for pass attempts in an Irish victory (43), Golson tied the former mark, throwing 38 balls, attempting 21 with one interception. He fumbled twice, once on a blind-side sack, the other after escaping pressure and gaining first down yardage. His 71 net rushing yards fell three short of his career high, 74 set in a triple overtime win over Pittsburgh in 2012.
Said Kelly about Golson's ability to bounce back from adversity, albeit in a third consecutive contest, "It tested him, because I tested him a little bit. I got in his face a little bit about the interception (returned for a touchdown). He's above that interception. That's a stick route that he's seen a million times.
"But I thought he handled it well. He bounced back and obviously put the ball on the ground again, which we weren't too thrilled about. But he bounced back, threw the ball with authority and he was decisive, made some good decisions… to answer your question, that whole game we saw a progression and process, and that's a good thing. That could shut some quarterbacks down. He took the adversity and got better as the game went on."
-- Notre Dame's offensive line struggled to protect Golson intermittently but it won the battle at scrimmage overall, paving the way for 219 rushing yards on 43 carries, the latter a season high, with the yardage total the team's best this fall since cruising for 281 vs. Rice.
The Irish improved to 40-4 under Kelly when rushing the ball more than 30 times in a contest including wins in 26 straight.
(The last loss in which the offense managed more than 30 carries? Florida State, 18-14 in the 2011 Champs Sports Bowl, a game in which the Irish rushed and passed 35 times apiece, with three interceptions intermixed.)
Saturday, Notre Dame's offense produced 519 total yards.
Defensive MVP: None510 yards allowed including 184 on the ground, with Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams setting a season-high by a player vs. defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder's unit, 132 yards on 18 rushes.
Williams, who threw for 303 yards and two scores, is the first quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards while rushing for in excess of 100 vs. an Irish defense since Denard Robinson (2011).
He added a 23-yard pass reception for a touchdown on a pass from wide receiver Quinshad Davis.
Defensive Game Balls-- In addition to six tackles, one for loss, 5th-year senior Cody Riggs broke up a certain touchdown pass, crashing his helmet into the football secured in the middle of the Irish end zone by Tar Heels target Mack Hollins. Later, Riggs fought through an ankle sprain -- the Irish yielded a touchdown on a trick play that attacked his replacement on the corner, Devin Butler -- to return to and finish the contest.
-- Senior linebacker Joe Schmidt set a career-high with 11 total tackles while forcing a fumble, recording a quarterback hurry, and breaking up a pass. He however missed more than a full handful of tackles vs. the quick-footed visitors from Chapel Hill.
"Our attention to detail needs to be better. My attention detail needs to be better. I'm taking full responsibility for that," said Schmidt. "I want to be better than this. It's humbling, they're a great offense.
"We fundamentally need to improve. This week will be big, preparing for an awesome opponent next week."
-- Cornerback Cole Luke intercepted a pass for the second straight week, his third in two games, adding four tackles and a pass defensed. Luke's pick stifled a Tar Heels drive at the Notre Dame 26-yard line. He secured the pigskin prior to crashing out of bounds on the North Carolina sideline, his toes tapping the field of play to ensure possession.
"It's all about bouncing back," said Luke. "We took a few hits in the beginning. We like being with our backs against the wall. Tough games are fun."
-- Sophomore defensive end Isaac Rochell dominated early in the second half as the Irish rebounded from a 14-0 deficit, registering a back-to-back tackles for loss and a quarterback pressure, finishing with two on the afternoon.
-- Junior nose guard Jarron Jones finished with a pair of quarterback hurries, five tackles, and a blocked extra point -- his second of the season and fourth of his two-year playing career. One Jones stop limited the Tar Heels to no gain, the other a 4-yard advance in which he chased down quarterback Marquise Williams four yards short of the first-down marker on 3rd-and-8. One snap later, the visitors shanked a 32-yard field goal.
-- The safety tandem of Elijah Shumate and Max Redfield combined for 18 tackles and a fumble recovery (Shumate). Shumate, who did not start but entered during the first quarter after 5th-year senior captain Austin Collinsworth dislocated his left shoulder, registered three stops at the line of scrimmage; Redfield saved two potential Tar Heels touchdowns with tackles 21 and 41 yards down field as the last man back.
Special Teams MVP: Kyle Brindza Booted six of his eight kickoffs for touchbacks with a seventh returned out of the end zone that was stopped at the North Carolina 15 yard line. Of Brindza's five punts, (41.8 average), three were returned -- for a net total of negative 13 yards.
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