CRISIS OF CONFIDENCE
The Irish offense faced four situations of 3rd-and-4 yards to gain or less in an effort to move the sticks. They eschewed common football (and hurricane) wisdom, passing three times. Conversely, N.C. State faced eight such situations and chose to run six times, passing once, and fumbling one snap.
-- Notre Dame twice attempted three straight pass plays on separate (failed) first half drives. They did the same when at the shadow of the Wolfpack goal, attempting three consecutive passes after a false start penalty turned 1st-and-G at the 6-yard line back to the 11.
Three pass plays followed resulting in a sack, an incomplete pass (with a QB hurry) and an interception.
-- The Irish offense featured more of the same curious play-calling in the second stanza, passing on four straight downs once (turnover on downs) and three straight another time (punt).
-- Notre Dame’s final drive concluded with five pass attempts (including the botched snap) in the last six snaps. That decision to throw came on the heels of 10 rushes in 11 snaps that afforded the offense its best drive of the day: 51 yards (42 rushing) on 11 snaps.
-- North Carolina State attempted three straight passes just once on the afternoon.
IF IT ‘AINT BROKE
Texas blocked a field goal. Michigan State recovered a fumbled punt. Duke returned a kickoff for a touchdown…and North Carolina State scored the game’s only touchdown with a block against Notre Dame’s new punt formation.
The Irish special teams are in peril, and this time, an unnecessary tweak contributed to the death blow.
“Last week (against Syracuse) we started to go to twins (two blockers) and a rugby style, and today we were in a rugby style because of the conditions,” said Kelly. “When you’re rolling you’re using a spread set so you’re using two guys in that set. We had two because of the rugby punt.”
Punter Tyler Newsome, however, did not roll to his right to punt. He stayed in the pocket and had his punt blocked by Pharaoh McKever who overwhelmed tight end Nic Weishar at the point of attack.
“You don’t have to roll on every one, but because we had the option to roll on it, that’s what we decided to do,” Kelly said.
It should be noted: Notre Dame’s trio of protectors danced precariously close to allowing a punt block vs. both Michigan State and Duke in previous outings.
FRONT SEVEN HOLDS SERVE
The conditions helped – or, pending how empty your Irish glass is at present, was the root cause of – but Notre Dame’s defense played its best competitive game of the season Saturday afternoon in defeat.
The defensive front seven, led by Jerry Tillery’s career-high 9 stops, registered 53 of the team’s 70 scrimmage tackles. Including fumbled snaps (to be adjusted hereafter) the defense produced 21 Stuffs on North Carolina State’s 51 rushing attempts with a member of the front seven contributing to 16 of them.
Saturday’s slop produced a Kelly-era low 113 total yards, 1.8 yards per play, and 1.6 yards per rush.
(Of note: The above was matched or eclipsed by the 2008, 38-3 nightmare in Los Angeles: 91 total yards – also 1.8 per play, and 1.8 per pass – in a 38-3 defeat. Of course, that occurred against one of the best one-loss teams of the modern era, eventual A.P. No. 3 USC…not the middling Wolfpack.)
-- The trip to Raleigh marked the lowest point total of the 84-game Kelly era. His previous low was in a 13-6 win over Michigan in 2012 with a 14-point total on five different occasions serving as the low water mark in defeat.
-- Notre Dame hadn’t held an opponent to 10 points since allowing just a field goal to Texas in the 2015 season opener and prior, 10 to No. 14 Stanford in rain-soaked Notre Dame Stadium October 4, 2014.
-- The Irish were 1-for-15 on third down (2-for-4 on fourth) Saturday, an effort roughly matched only by an 0-10 third-down afternoon at Virginia last season (one mitigated by a clutch 2-for-2 on fourth down) and a 2-for-14 outing in a win at Michigan State in 2012. Notre Dame prevailed in both Charlottesville and East Lansing despite its third down failures.
-- The Mike Elston/Greg Hudson-led Irish defense stopped the Wolfpack on 12 of 14 third-down conversion attempts while yielding two of five fourth down chances.
-- North Carolina State’s five sacks were the most vs. Kelly’s Irish since the squad suffered seven sacks at Arizona State in November 2014.