Irish ride Adams, defense to top-15 victory
Jack Concannon | Monday, October 30, 2017
The play looked all too familiar to anyone who has followed the Irish this season.
Junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush took the snap out of the shotgun and turned to his left, handing the ball to junior running back Josh Adams up the middle. Most teams might be happy to get four yards on a run up the middle, but, as Irish fans have come to expect, the seas parted and there was room for Adams to run. The junior back, who has run his way into the Heisman conversation, was gone and 77 yards later, he crossed into the end zone.
The Irish lead was up to 35-14 against NC State, and they never looked back.
No. 9 Notre Dame’s offense has found much of its success on the ground so far this season, averaging 7.06 yards per rush, good for second in the country behind Stanford. Against No. 14 NC State (6-2, 4-0 ACC), Irish running back Josh Adams eclipsed the 200-yard mark for the second time this season, overcoming NC State’s No. 6-ranked run defense to dominate the game. Despite his individual achievement, Adams believes that his performance is a product the whole team working together.
“I think that it comes down to our offensive line and the confidence that we have in them as a team,” Adams said. “In the running back room, we want to do whatever we can to help our team win. If that’s in the pass game or the run game, it’s about doing the little things. Our game and our offense is built off those guys up front. They lead us on offense, and we feed off of them.”
Before that Adams breakaway touchdown, Notre Dame (7-1) and NC State started the game modestly on offense. The Irish began their day with a punt, and the Wolfpack would go three-and-out on their first drive to answer.
The Irish were backed up heavily on the ensuing drive, forced to punt out of the end zone. This proved problematic for the Irish, as pressure got to senior punter Tyler Newsome, and the punt was blocked by NC State redshirt-sophomore defensive end James Smith-Williams and recovered in the endzone for the game’s opening score with 10:05 left in the first quarter. Irish head coach Brian Kelly was impressed with the team’s resolve after the blocked punt.
“What was most impressive for me was after you get a punt blocked, it has a real tendency to affect a football team, our guys never flinched,” Kelly said. “They wanted to get back out on the field and get back to work. That’s hard to build. It took us a long time to get that.”
The Irish response was quick. Junior C.J. Sanders returned the kickoff back to the 40-yard line, and the Irish only needed two plays and 29 seconds to go 60 yards. An Adams 35-yard run was followed immediately by a 25-yard connection between Wimbush and graduate student tight end Durham Smythe in the endzone to tie the game at seven.
NC State would take over on its own 29 a few possessions later and used big plays to move down the field. Redshirt-junior quarterback Ryan Finley connected on back-to-back passes of 18 and 42 yards to march his team down to the Irish 15-yard line. He then connected with sophomore wide receiver Kelvin Harmon on a 15-yard pass in the back of the endzone to put his team back on top.
The Irish would respond, stringing together a 14-play drive on the legs of Adams and some costly Wolfpack penalties. The Irish ran 11 running plays on the drive, ending in a third-and-goal quarterback draw that Wimbush scored on from three yards out.
The Irish then forced an NC State punt, taking over on their own 40-yard line. Once again, the Irish offense hummed, moving down the field in 10 plays behind the arm of Wimbush and the legs of Adams. Wimbush completed three passes on the drive for 26 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Kevin Stepherson along the sideline. The play appeared to be incomplete, but was overturned upon review that showed Stephenson keep one foot inbounds. Wimbush took notice of the efforts by Stepherson and others during the game.
“[Notre Dame receivers] are spectacular, you’ve seen it all year,” Wimbush said. “When I give them a chance all those guys make plays, whether it be the tight ends and wide receivers. We’re glad to have KJ [Stepherson] back; he had a hell of a game; we went out to make plays and we made plays.”
The Wolfpack and Irish would each put together short drives before the half, but ultimately failed to threaten the end zone. The Irish headed into the locker room with a 21-14 lead.
The Irish came out in the second half on defense and immediately began to put the game away. The Wolfpack had driven into Irish territory before Love jumped a short route and took the ball all the way back for a 69-yard touchdown. It broke a streak of 338 straight passes thrown by Finley without an interception. Love thought the play that led to his touchdown was unusual, but was happy with the result.
“It was kind of a weird play. I think they tried to draw us offsides,” Love said. “I made a read and I picked the ball and then was waiting. I thought they might have blown it dead, the quarterback didn’t move to come tackle me, I was a little worried it wouldn’t count. But then I got some great blocks; it was a great play.”
The Wolfpack answered back by returning the kickoff after the interception back to the Irish 42. They drove down the short field all the way to the Irish 6-yard line, facing a fourth down and one. The Wolfpack chose to go for it and ran the ball with senior H-back Jaylen Samuels, but were stuffed in the backfield for a loss, allowing the Irish to take over on downs and squashing any momentum the Wolfpack were looking to generate.
The Irish and Wolfpack traded punts once again, and the Irish had the ball on their own 23 with 4:27 left on the clock. After an incomplete pass, Adams broke through the Wolfpack defense with a 77-yard run.
“[Adams] continues to play against top competition and continues to excel on a very good football team,” Kelly said. “Josh is an outstanding player, his physicality is great. I don’t know how many runs he has had outside the tackle box, they’re all inside. He’s got the speed to extend the play like he has. He’s unique player in that regard.”
The Wolfpack offense finished the game with four three-and-outs, generating a total of 16 yards of offense on those four drives. The suddenly stagnant Wolfpack offense made it easy for the Irish to run out the clock.
The Irish didn’t score in the fourth quarter, but they controlled the ball for 12:49, making it impossible for NC State to come back with its offense on the sideline.
After the game, Kelly had high praise for his group and was excited about the team’s competitive mindset going forward.
“We’ve gotten better each and every week. We’ve established a mindset as to how we play, and the kids are trusting the teaching,” Kelly said. “This is a team that’s getting better.”