Notre Dame stays perfect but doesn't look it

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

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SOUTH BEND — What a way to get bowl eligible.

Hanging on for dear life against a football team that seemed to have packed it in a couple weeks ago.

Notre Dame’s 50-43 brush with disaster against North Carolina on Saturday isn’t going to convince anyone on the playoff selection committee the Irish are worthy.

What it does do is keep 6-0 Notre Dame in the conversation.

As for how it prepares the Irish for next week’s trip to Tallahassee … Repeat after me: Marquise Williams is not Jameis Winston. Marquise Williams is not Jameis Winston.

And the trouble that Williams caused for the Notre Dame defense could be considered legendary. The 43 points allowed by the Irish were the most EVER in a Notre Dame victory – that’s 1,227 games before this one.

“I made it pretty clear coming into the season that there were going to be some games that we needed to outscore some people,” said Irish coach Brian Kelly. “I felt like, on the schedule, this was one of them.”

Yeah, but…

Yeah, but, nobody counted on Everett Golson committing three turnovers that set up North Carolina scores.

Yeah, but, fans got lulled into complacency by a defense that was solid against the run and quite fundamentally sound in tackling.

Yeah, but, nobody considered the Irish could be beaten at their own game by having their array of exotic defensive packages rendered useless because the Tar Heels’ use of the uptempo offense that kept substitutions from happening.

Yeah, but…

Notre Dame came within a smack upside long snapper Scott Daly’s head of being in deep trouble. Kelly and his staff planted the seed with the officials about the idea of North Carolina linemen hitting Daly’s head before it was raised from a snapping position. The penalty kept a Notre Dame drive alive that ended in a Tarean Folston touchdown reception that gave the Irish the lead back in the fourth quarter, 43-36.

If Carolina gets the ball back, who knows?

Rather than wrecking a perfectly good Sunday wallowing in the despair of everything that went wrong for the Irish, take a few minutes to consider what went right.

OK, fast-forward through the first six minutes of the game. Not much positive there worth taking away.

Tarean Folston became a man Saturday. The Irish running back, working behind an offensive line that continues to struggle, proved that he doesn’t need the biggest hole or nothing but green carpet in his line of sight.

As Kelly put it, Folston ran through tackles.

Get out of the way, the sophomore is coming with a full head of steam.

The Irish have been waiting for a game when they can rush for 219 yards. However, against a Carolina defense that yields about 187 a game, the credibility of the performance can be questioned.

Next week should be a better gauge.

Golson didn’t mope. Neither Kelly nor Golson would make an excuse for the quarterback’s shortcomings. Over the last three games, ball security has become a significant issue.

Everett Golson circa 2012 would have had that “deer-in-headlights” look in his eyes. Remember Michigan back then? He was toast. Thank goodness for Tommy Rees (haven’t written that in a while).

This time, though, Golson wasn’t about to back down. There were times when the North Carolina defense was treating the Irish quarterback like a piñata, wearing a No. 5 jersey. He was only sacked once, but knocked down a bunch.

“I got in his face a little bit about the interception,” said Kelly. “He’s above that interception. That’s a … route that he’s seen a million times.”

“You know what you’re going to get with coach Kelly,” Golson said, finally able to smile about it.

Golson got right back on the horse and rode it to a less-than-classic victory.

Midway through the season, a win like this is good enough. Don’t forget the amazing escape from Pitt in 2012. Somehow that was forgotten and the Irish still managed to get to the BCS national championship game.

The playoff selection committee would likely overlook a blip on the radar.

Yeah, but…

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Notre Dame’s Everett Golson runs the ball during the Notre Dame vs. North Carolina college football game on Saturday, Oct. 11, 2014, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN