The rushing attack has improved its yards-per-carry average weekly since dominating Rice, bottoming out against Michigan (2.2 per rush), then posting averages of 3.7 (Purdue), 3.9 (Syracuse), and 4.0 (Stanford) before Saturday's 5.1 ypc. outing.
Key to the effort was that second-level blocks were present and executed for the first time this season as each member of the Irish front found and secured assigned targets that allowed Folston and Golson occasional room after scrimmage.
It was a step forward -- arguably a major one -- for an Irish ground attack that need be present in forthcoming contests.
2.) More of the New Look Nickel?
Yes, and I'm not sure I'm in favor of it.
Notre Dame's base defense: 1st and 10; 2nd and medium, should feature Matthias Farley. He's played well in attack mode and has better field awareness than does converted wide receiver James Onwualu (at present, that could change next fall).
When third- and an obvious passing down presents, Cody Riggs to nickel with Devin Butler checking in at left cornerback is logical -- removing Farley too often on first down ignores how the Irish defense reached it's apex (i.e., every game played prior to Saturday) en route to 5-0.
3.) Cleanliness, Thy Name is Everett?
Ahh. Not again!
A pair of lost fumbles, one on a scramble, one from the pocket. His worst interception of a the season (perhaps his career?), returned 29 yards for a North Carolina touchdown.
If it continues, Golson's brazen lack of ball security will bite the Irish next Saturday in Tallahassee. Neither his defense nor his offensive line are strong enough to overcome such continued foolishness -- nine turnovers over the last three contests. As a senior with 18 games of playing experience, and the ranking best player on the offense, it's paramount he cleans it up.
More than one turnover by the Irish offense will be a death knell vs. a Florida State team that has won by at least 14 points in 17 of 18 starts with Jameis Winston at quarterback.
4.) Time to Tap the Potential?
At worst, Folston's 169-yard, three touchdown, all-purpose effort will earn the sophomore the lion's share of early work Saturday night in Tallahassee. And at worst, that means the Irish offense has a chance to use a feature runner that will be ably backed by a pair of valuable backups.
Florida State might stymie Folston. Cam McDaniel or Greg Bryant might then emerge in his stead. If both suppositions become reality, it's now more likely head coach Brian Kelly will ride the hot hand after seeing his sophomore benefit and find a rhythm with more consistent work.
5.) Is South Bend Trap City, USA Saturday?
Yes, and there was little doubt it would be.
The Irish offense was asleep at the switch -- Will Fuller admitted post-game that despite his head coach's proclamations throughout the week, he didn't expect the game to play out as it did -- and the defense was two steps slow for the better part of the opening quarter.
It was a game identified in early June on these pages as the season's trap contest, sandwiched between Stanford and Florida State. It played out as expected (as did those identified in 2009-10, 2012-2014 -- with a big miss in 2011.)
(Stay tuned for next year's sure-fire trap, to be announced on June 1…)
6.) Can North Carolina Score in the Third?
Notre Dame hadn't yielded a point in the third quarter entering the contest but the Tar Heels managed 10 points thanks to turnover deep in Irish territory and well-timed trickery -- a wide receiver reverse, throw-back pass to quarterback Marquise Williams that targeted Devin Butler, subbing for injured starting cornerback Cody Riggs.
North Carolina also produced an 8-play, 78-yard drive that resulted in a field goal, outscoring the Irish 10-7 in the third to turn a 28-26 halftime deficit into a 36-35 lead entering the fourth.
Brown and Robinson were contained, though the latter contributed a key 3rd-and-11 crossing route in the red zone that helped set up a Folston touchdown and 43-36 advantage. Brown, like Robinson, finished with just two receptions with both resulting in first downs.
-- While Trumbetti was held in check, fellow defensive end Isaac Rochell was not. The sophomore strong man finished with two tackles for loss and a quarterback hurry, all in the first half. (Trumbetti produced a QB hurry of his own.)
-- Cole Luke registered a game-changing interception for the second straight week, this time picking off a Williams pass at the Irish 19-yard line with the hosts clinging to a 43-36 lead midway through the fourth quarter.
-- Shumate finished with eight tackles including sharing one for loss while also recovering a fumble at the Tar Heels 6-yard line to set up an Irish touchdown. Luke and Shumate will be in position to make myriad plays this Saturday night vs. the defending national championsh.