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Williams rushes for nearly 200 yards in Irish victory over UNC

| Sunday, October 31, 2021

For the second consecutive week, the No. 11-ranked Irish reigned victorious in a night game at Notre Dame Stadium. This time it was against the UNC Tar Heels by a score of 44-34. Although the defense had some issues with tackling and giving up big plays, junior running back Kyren Williams proved to be the difference maker, as he rushed for nearly 200 yards and a touchdown run.

Although both offenses eventually got rolling, both teams started off slow and had to punt on their first drives. On their second drive of the game, the Irish turned to the ground game, running the ball 4 out of 5 plays to start the drive. After marching down the field, the Irish were set up with a first and goal at the UNC 10 yard line. A couple of plays later, freshman quarterback Tyler Buchner found graduate student wide receiver Avery Davis on a screen play for a seven-yard touchdown reception to give the Irish an early 7-0 lead.

The Tar Heels would respond quickly, however, with an eight-play, 81-yard touchdown drive orchestrated by UNC quarterback Sam Howell. Howell got the Tar Heels moving quickly, finding wide receiver Justin Olson two plays into the drive for a nineteen-yard gain to set up the Tar Heels in Irish territory. The Tar Heels then faced a third and long a few plays later, but Howell would find wide receiver Justin Downs for 41 yards to set up the Tar Heels with a first and goal. It was then Ty Chandler that ran it in for the Tar Heels two plays later to tie the game at seven apiece early in the second quarter.

The Irish would respond quickly on the following drive, though, with graduate student quarterback Jack Coan finding Avery Davis for a couple of big passing plays to get the Irish deep in Tar Heel territory. The drive would stall for the Irish quickly, though, setting up a 31-yard field goal for senior kicker Jonathan Doerer, which gave the Irish a 10-7 lead with ten minutes to play in the first half.

The Tar Heels would continue to move the football against the Irish defense on the ensuing drive with Sam Howell, completing multiple passes and running the ball for positive yardage plays to move the Tar Heels quickly into Irish territory. The biggest play of the drive came off a 30-yard screen play to Josh Downs that put the Tar Heels at the Irish eight-yard line. A Tar Heel holding call, however, would back the Tar Heels up, forcing the Tar Heels to settle for a 37-yard field goal to tie the game at ten with three minutes to play in the first half.

The Irish would waste no time getting the ensuing drive going with Jack Coan finding sophomore tight end Michael Mayer over the middle on the second play of the drive for a big 30-yard play to set the Irish up in UNC territory. The Irish would ultimately face a crucial fourth-and-three play from the UNC 36-yard line. Despite an incomplete pass, the Irish were bailed out by a facemask call on the Tar Heels, giving the Irish the ball at the UNC 21-yard line. On the following play, Coan would connect with senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. in the endzone to give the Irish a 17-10 lead with just over a minute to play in the first half.

The Tar Heels would string together some big plays to set up a 26-yard field goal to end the half and bring the score to 17-13 in favor of the Irish.

The UNC offense would waste no time on their opening second-half drive, putting together a 79-yard touchdown drive in just five plays. After getting to midfield, it was Ty Chandler who found the endzone for the Tar Heels yet again. This time, it was off a 53-yard touchdown run where Chandler was not even touched en route to a touchdown that gave the Tar Heels their first lead of the game at 20-17.

The Irish responded quickly to the Tar Heels, though, orchestrating a 75-yard touchdown drive in just three plays and 58 seconds. After a fourteen-yard run from Kyren Williams got the drive off to a good start, Coan found freshman wide receiver Lorenzo Styles Jr. down the sideline for a huge 40 yard gain to set the Irish up at the UNC 21 yard line. Coan then took it himself, running it in from 21 yards out to give the Irish a 24-20 lead.

Coan talked about his touchdown run and what was going through his head as he ran towards the endzone.

“I don’t take anything for granted when I’m running. It was sort of like I couldn’t believe I was still going,” Coan said.

The Irish defense would finally get a stop on the ensuing UNC drive, forcing the Tar Heels to punt for the first time since the first quarter. The booth review helped the Irish, as it looked like UNC had converted on a third and long from deep in their own territory, but after further review, it was determined that the ball carrier was half a yard short of the first down.

The Irish would look to Kyren Williams to open the following drive. A pair of Williams’s first-down runs would get the Irish inside Tar Heel territory. Coan would then connect with Lorenzo Styles a couple of plays later for a 25-yard gain to get in the UNC red zone. The drive was ultimately capped by freshman running back Logan Diggs, who ran it in from one yard out to give the Irish a 31-20 lead with five minutes to play in the third quarter. That run marked Diggs’ first career rushing touchdown.

Kyren Williams talked about how happy he was for Diggs after he scored.

“I was nothing but excited. I couldn’t even say words. I was just screaming. I was super excited for Logan, and I know what he does each and every day in the work that he puts in,” Williams said.

On the ensuing drive, the Tar Heels were gifted a roughing the passer call on the Irish early in the drive. Howell would then connect with Ty Chandler over the middle for 18 yards to set the Tar Heels up in Irish territory on the ensuing play. A few plays later, Howell would connect with a wide-open Antoine Green in the endzone to bring the Tar Heels within one score at 31-27.

The Tar Heels’ defense would build off the touchdown and force Notre Dame to a quick three and out. After an Irish punt, the Tar Heels were set up at their own 40-yard line with just two minutes to play in the third quarter. After quickly getting into Notre Dame territory, the Tar Heels’ drive stalled as well, setting the Irish up deep in their own territory.

On the first play of the drive, the Irish got exactly what they needed to reignite the crowd with a huge 91-yard touchdown run from Kyren Williams. That run by Williams was tied for the fifth-longest in Notre Dame history.

Coan talked about how special Williams’ run was.

“I couldn’t believe it. That was one of the best runs that I’ve seen in person,” Coan said. “I feel like with the look we got from the defense it should have been stopped in the backfield. Somehow he made a play and got around and kept going and kept going. It was pretty amazing, and it was an unbelievable play.”

Williams talked about how he knew he was going to score once he made a cutback to the other side of the field.

“When I turned that corner, I knew I had to get going, and it was only #19 between me and the endzone,” Williams said.

Williams talked about how this run felt like one of his high school runs where he would run all around the field and nobody could tackle him.

“That run was my most exciting college run for sure,” Williams said. “Being able to cross the field really felt like a high school run. Coming back all the way across the field and making people miss when I needed to.”

Just when it looked like it couldn’t get any worse for the Tar Heels, Sam Howell’s first pass of the drive was intercepted by senior safety D.J. Brown to set the Irish up in the UNC red zone.

Brown was able to read Sam Howell’s eyes to make the play.

“I saw the quarterback looking at him, so I jumped it,” Brown said.

Unfortunately for the Irish, the drive stalled, which led to a 20-yard field goal from Jonathan Doerer to give the Irish a 41-27 lead with twelve minutes to play.

The Tar Heels weren’t going to go down without a fight, though, as they marched 75 yards down the field off ten plays to bring the score to 41-34. It was Howell who punched the ball in for the Tar Heels off a 31-yard run where multiple Irish players missed tackles,

The Irish got the ball back and were able to work the ball down the field after some short passes and Kyren Williams runs. Although they were unable to punch the ball in, Jonathan Doerer made another short field goal to give the Irish a commanding 44-34 lead with just over a minute and a half to play. The defense then stopped the Tar Heels on the ensuing drive to secure the victory.

Head coach Brian Kelly discussed the improvements he has seen in this team and acknowledged some of the issues that his defense faced on Saturday night.

“It’s an improving football team,” Kelly said. “I just like the position that we are in. We are getting better each and every week. That’s a tough team to defend. I wouldn’t call it our best night defensively. We got to coach a little bit better in terms of communications and things that happened out there.”

Kelly talked about the play of the secondary in the absence of All-American junior safety Kyle Hamilton.

“They played pretty well,” Kelly said. “I thought our communication was pretty good, but it’s got to be better.”

Next up for the Irish will be the Navy Midshipmen, who will play at Notre Dame Stadium at 3:30 p.m. EST next Saturday.

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About Nate Moller

Nate is a junior majoring in chemical engineering. He is originally from a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota and is currently living in Siegfried Hall. Some of his passions include running, cross country skiing, and getting too worked up about Notre Dame and Minnesota sports teams.

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