Padanilam: Notre Dame proves itself a legitimate contender against NC State
Benjamin Padanilam | Monday, October 30, 2017
Anyone who knows me knows that I hate being wrong. I like to think I’m not unreasonable about it, but I will stand my ground for argument’s sake until there’s nothing left for me to argue about.
So, as much as I hate to admit it, there’s nothing left for me to say about this Notre Dame team but one thing.
I was wrong.
After covering this team for the first time last year and having to spend week after week talking about the issues of leadership, development and accountability as it beat itself on the way to a 4-8 season, I had my share of doubts about this year’s team.
Maybe it was the cynicism that followed and prevented me from believing this team could truly string together top-15 wins — something the numbers suggested wasn’t possible in the Brian Kelly era.
And maybe it was the close loss to Georgia in the only game this team faced adversity this season, seeing it lose yet another one-score game and giving me every reason to find something, anything, to explain away the dominance it showed in the games that followed.
But doing so now would just be unreasonable.
So it’s over Coach Kelly — you’ve finally convinced me that you’ve put last year in the past and I can count on you to win when it matters.
Coming into Saturday’s game, I was convinced North Carolina State would be the toughest matchup Notre Dame has seen this season. An offense with only three turnovers? A defense ranked No. 6 against the run in the country? A team coming off a bye week, giving it twice the time to prepare for this game?
That had “loss” written all over it for the Irish (7-1) in my book, and why I predicted a 31-24 Wolfpack win.
Boy, was I wrong.
It started ugly — four of Notre Dame’s first six plays from scrimmage went for negative yardage and NC State (6-2, 4-0 ACC) proceeded to block a punt in the endzone and recover for a touchdown just five minutes into the game.
The Wolfpack defense line seemed as formidable as advertised, and Notre Dame was trailing for the first time since Boston College in Week 3.
Adversity had struck. Here we go again.
Except it never did.
The Irish bounced back, outscored NC State 21-7 the rest of the first half and put them away in the second half for a 35-14 win.
And they did it with the dominance they displayed against Temple, Boston College, Michigan State, Miami (OH), North Carolina and USC.
The defense was outstanding, holding the nation’s previously 24th-ranked offense to just 263 yards and seven points. The pick-six by sophomore cornerback Julian Love — Wolfpack redshirt-junior quarterback Ryan Finley’s first interception of the season — pretty much cemented the hiring of defensive coordinator Mike Elko as the most impactful move Kelly made this offseason, emblematic of a defense that executes the fundamentals and has the ability to change the game with turnovers.
And the offense took it to the nation’s sixth-ranked run defense for a total of 318 rushing yards, 202 of which came from junior running back Josh Adams. Between his eight runs of at least 59 yards this season and his 8.86 yards per carry average, all the Heisman talk is certainly warranted.
Yet, I think it speaks just us much to the talent of the offensive line he runs behind — and so does he. The unit continues to put him in a position where if he can make one tackler miss, he has the chance to break off a long run. But regardless of who deserves the recognition, it’s the combination of the two that makes Notre Dame dangerous, even when junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush isn’t a part of the running attack.
And Wimbush’s final numbers — 10-of-19 for 104 yards and two touchdowns — might not impress, but he made throws when it mattered Saturday. He picked up several key third downs, and he was 8-for-12 in the first half when the game was not already in his team’s control. This team doesn’t need Wimbush to carry it to wins, it just needs him to play his part — and it’s a part he’s proven himself now capable of playing.
So I was wrong about this team, but Saturday showed me the error of my way.
And that leaves me with only one thing left to say.
Welcome to the Playoff conversation, Notre Dame.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.