Notre Dame vs North Carolina quick hits: Where was all this hiding for Irish?

Tom Noie
South Bend Tribune

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — Three quick thoughts and other notes and anecdotes following Saturday’s game between Notre Dame and North Carolina, won by Notre Dame, 45-32, at a rapidly-emptying Kenan Stadium. 

∎ Talk about a reversal of roles. North Carolina (3-1) was one of the nation’s most feared offensive outfits coming in, one that had put up video-game like numbers over its first three games. The Irish offense? Often couldn’t get out of its own way, or sustain a drive to save its college football life the first three weeks. 

Then what happens Saturday? We weren’t even into the fourth quarter, and Notre Dame (2-2) had already racked up nearly 500 yards of offense (494) and 38 points. Make that a season-high 38 points. 

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For the second straight game, Irish starting quarterback Drew Pyne looked anything but the part to start, then settled down and in and just dealt. He found receivers. He made plays. Everything offensive coordinator Tommy Rees dialed up clicked. The second half featured more boos from the home crowd than big plays from what was supposed to be a big-play outfit. 

This one was over early. Really early. Like, before it got dark early. It was fun to watch. 

Notre Dame tight end Michael Mayer (87) goes past North Carolina defensive back DeAndre Boykins (16) for a touchdown during the first half of an NCAA college football game in Chapel Hill, N.C., Saturday, Sept. 24, 2022 (AP Photo/Chris Seward)

∎ Saturday was the Michael Mayer we thought we’d see every game out this season. We saw the junior tight end early and often, catching passes, making plays, being unstoppable basically anywhere he wanted to go. The rest of the offense seemed to follow his lead, and picked up his swagger early in the second quarter. 

Hope everyone watched Mayer closely. Can’t take the stuff he did for granted. His seven catches for 88 yards deep into the third quarter helped set a specific tone — come stop this. Carolina couldn’t. Even when they did — Mayer caught a would-be touchdown pass in the end zone, but stepped out of bounds as he did. It still was a heck of a catch. 

∎ Given the way the Irish defense started, this had the makings of a really looooonnng day after North Carolina went 76 yards in 12 plays, and made it look ridiculously easy for an early 7-0 lead. 

Give credit to coordinator Al Golden and his guys, who took the L on the opening drive and immediately flipped the script. Next three Carolina drives, the Tar Heels tallied 11 yards on 11 plays. Getting those stops allowed the Irish offense more time to find its rhythm, to the point where the Irish scored 24 unanswered to run away and hide.

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By the numbers

1: Saturday was the first time under coach Marcus Freeman that Notre Dame won the coin toss. Linebacker J.D. Bertrand, who sat out the first half after the targeting call against Cal, called tails. It was tails. The Irish deferred their choice to the second half. 

2: Number of Irish ruled out for Saturday’s game who were expected to play, at least earlier in the week. Tight end Kevin Bauman missed the game with a knee issue while safety Ramon Henderson was out with an ankle injury. 

3: Number of Irish to score in the first half — Lorenzo Styles, Mayer, Audric Estime. 

6: Consecutive drives that ended in points for Notre Dame — five touchdowns, one field goal. 

12: Consecutive road games against ACC schools now won by Notre Dame since its last loss — Nov. 1, 2017 at Miami, 41-8. Yeah, that one still stings the Irish. 

24: Highest point total Notre Dame scored in any of its first three games – and the number of points the Irish tallied in Saturday’s first half. 

25: Consecutive games against ACC schools won by Notre Dame since its last loss in 2017. 

29: Estime busted loose on the longest Irish run of the year on Notre Dame’s fourth drive, which was capped by a Styles touchdown catch. Chris Tyree then added a 19-yard run on the next Irish drive, followed by 17 from Logan Diggs and suddenly, the Irish run game was humming. 

40: Irish kicker Blake Grupe’s make from 40 yards late in the first half gave Notre Dame a 24-14 lead at intermission. He bounced back after having missed earlier from 44. 

Worth noting

Saturday was Notre Dame’s lone trip to the Triangle for the 2022 football season. The itinerary — charter flight out of South Bend International Airport and into Raleigh-Durham, one of the country’s most convenient airports, doubles next season when Notre Dame visits the other two Triangle schools in Duke and North Carolina State. Both game dates remain to be determined. 

Tobacco Road will be one often traveled this season by the Irish men’s basketball team, which has road trips to each of the four North Carolina schools coming in Atlantic Coast Conference action — Duke, North Carolina, North Carolina State and Wake Forest, located a couple hours west on Interstate 40. 

Up next

A third of the regular season — four weeks — already down and it’s time for a break for Notre Dame, which goes into an open date before going back out on the road in a couple weeks to play Brigham Young in Las Vegas, part of the Irish “Shamrock Series.” It’s a little early in the year to take such a quick break, but a break the Irish get. It’s a week off, then eight straight weeks to close the 2022 season.