Which makes it all the more head scratching that Notre Dame allowed North Carolina three offensive touchdowns and one 90-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. No defense is perfect but the big play has been an Achilles Heal for the Irish defense.
"They had 244 yards offense for the game," head coach Charlie Weis said on Sunday. "221 of those 244 yards came on eight plays. The 72 yard play, which in reality, if we just tackle him at the 50 yard line, we have an opportunity to tackle him, it negates a long play, still have half the field to go. 72, 42, 35, 21, 15, 13, 12 and 11. The other 41 plays went for 23 yards. They all count the same. All those plays count the same. You want to talk about highs and lows, I mean, that's definitely some really good plays and some really bad plays."
Notre Dame has two games before the huge end-of-the-season contest at USC. Both teams are not offensive juggernauts. Air Force, despite being No. 3 nationally in rushing offense, is a middle-of-the-road 66th in total offense. The other service academy, Army, is even worse. The Black Knights are 110th in total offense. The option offense will be a familiar sight the next two weeks for the Irish defense. Can they prevent the big play? It's an ongoing, lingering question.
*A look at the defensive statistics shows linebacker Maurice Crum leading the team in tackles. The junior has 71 stops on the season, 12 more than second-place Tommy Zbikowski. Crum is also fourth in tackles for loss and sacks. He's made the move from strong side linebacker to the middle spot quite nicely this year. In the win over the Tar Heels, Crum was all over the field and once again led the team in tackles.
"He's developed a nice feel for the position," Weis said. "He's not 250 pounds like some middle linebackers. Every once in a while he'll get one of those big guys on him. He's trying to avoid them. He has a nice feel for the position. Now he's just continued to make plays. At first it was due to his athleticism. Now he's gaining more and more experience how to handle the reads from inside versus the reads from outside."
*The much anticipated weekly Geoff Price watch: the Notre Dame punter booted the ball five times for an average of 45.8 yards. For the season, the senior is averaging 45.4 yards per punt, still on pace to break Craig Hentrich's season single record of 44.9. Last week, Price was named a Ray Guy semi-finalist as one of Division 1A's best punters. The negative: Price booted a few balls into the end zone last Saturday that should have been better placed inside the 20-yard line. Weis made mention of this on Sunday.
*Every fan already has their sights set on the USC contest in Los Angeles on Thanksgiving Day weekend. The problem is that Notre Dame still has two games left before making the trip to the West Coast. The clichés are already starting to flow from the Irish football program.
"We're not talking about USC," Weis said. "We will not even breathe one word about USC until it gets to that week. We will just be talking about Air Force."