The big play once again hurt the Irish defense. Hakeem Nicks burned the Notre Dame secondary for two touchdowns and also set a Tar Heel freshman record with 171 receiving yards. The biggest play: Nicks's 72-yard touchdown in the third quarter to close the Irish lead to 38-26. Of the 244 yards allowed, Nicks's big catch-and-run and Ronnie McGill's 35-yard run accounted for 107. Another bad stat: North Carolina quarterback Joe Dailey threw three touchdowns. Coming into the contest, the junior only had two scores through the air to four interceptions.
"We pretty much we're shutting them down in the first half except for that one drive," safety Tommy Zbikowski said. "We knew we could shut them down. But they made a few big plays. We had to stand our ground and make some ourselves."
"Obviously, you want to negate the big play and take them away," defensive end Victor Abiamiri said. "It's an ongoing thing. Tomorrow, we're going to come in and watch the film and see where we can improve."
"It's one of those things," defensive tackle Derek Landri said about the big plays. "You don't know what happened before the play and then he caught the pass and broke a tackle and ran it for a touchdown. It's something you don't want to happen and it's unfortunate. Before this, it was the trick plays that had got us. It's one of those things."
*Speaking of Landri, he was on a mission on the inside of the defensive line. The senior led Notre Dame with 3.5 TFL's. He was part of a rushing defense that allowed just 31 yards on 25 attempts. In the past six quarters, the Irish have surrendered 91 yards on the ground. As a group, the defensive line totaled five TFL's and three sacks.
"I think we are slowly progressing to being better and better every game," Landri said about the defensive line. "I don't think we're at where we need to be defensively. But potentially we know we can play better every week and build off of each game."
"Our goal is to peak for our bowl game," defensive tackle Trevor Laws said. "We've been trying to play better each week. I think we're on a rise to be perfect for that bowl game."
"I think it's pretty obvious that these two guys create some havoc inside and that helps the whole defense," head coach Charlie Weis said of Landri and Laws. "They are very quick off the ball and they penetrate. Whether they are involved in pressuring the quarterback or because they are being blocked, it helps for Victor and those guys off the edge. Every game, one thing you can depend on with them, they will always be active."
The two defensive tackles also made their presence known on special teams. Each of them were credited with a blocked extra point. What makes this more impressive is that North Carolina kicker Connor Barth was one of three kickers in the nation not to miss a kick this year. It's his first PAT miss since his freshman season back in 2004 vs. Duke.
"Almost every game when we bring pressure with Landri and Laws, they are close to touching the ball almost every game," Weis said. "It's not the first time Derek has had his hands on one and Trevor has had his hands on one, too. The key point is there's a lot of defensive linemen when it gets to be extra point field goal rush, they just take the play off and that's really the key point. Kudos to Landri because it shows he's not taking a play off, even though they just scored a touchdown, he's going out there and this is like blocking a field goal to win the game. This is blocking an extra point. So you have to give him a lot of credit on playing hard on an extra point run."
"Me and Landri tried to get in there," Laws said. "We try to wreak havoc wherever we can. It was all good. We never take that play off. We knew we could get in there. We've had some success in the past. It's a way to change a game."
*Abiamiri increased his sack total for the season. The senior defensive end notched two more on Saturday, which brings him to 10 on the year. He has four in the past two contests and eight in the past four games. Abiamiri is dangerously close to breaking Justin Tuck's single season record of 13.5 set in 2003.
"I'll be chasing him," Abiamiri said of Tuck. "I'm going to chase him the rest of the year. Justin is a great guy and he's one of my mentors. To be talking about me with him in the same vain is an honor."
"He's a freak," Laws said of Abiamiri. "He's been playing so good this year. I hope he has a great rest of the year and be the new sack leader. He's a dominant force over there. Teams have to game plan to stop him. They still can't do it. He's a big player for us."
"I think that Rick (Minter) and Jappy (Oliver) have done a nice job of turning him free a little bit, widing him out a little bit," Weis said. "I know we go against him in practice and we can't block him. I know that. If we don't put two guys on him, it's a long, hard day for us, too."
*Zbikowski, Mr. Excitement himself, finally broke free on a punt return. The senior took a punt, busted through some tackles and raced down field for a 52-yard touchdown. After scoring twice last season off of punts and averaging 14 yards per return, Zbikowski has had a slow start this year. But on Saturday, he made the home crowd go crazy once again.
"I made the first couple guys miss and after that it was pretty much green grass," Zbikowski said. "The guys up front were holding their guys up and not letting them get around to make the tackle."
It's his seventh touchdown of his Notre Dame career. That's a high total for a player who doesn't play on the offensive side of the ball. Zbikowski cannot explain the propensity for finding the end zone.
"I don't know if it's luck or being in the right place at the right time," Zbikowski said. "Things have to go your way and I've been fortunate and blessed to make those plays."