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McGinley: Irish defense did not pass go to collect $200 — dual-threats did

Notre Dame football has been a defense-oriented program for most of its history. From the Miami pass breakup in 1988 and the goal line stand in 2012, to this year’s BYU fourth down stop and the Clemson routing that featured both a pick-six and a blocked punt; there have been games won by the Irish defense, sometimes in spite of the offense. 

This weekend, however, the offense almost won the game in spite of the defense. Now it wasn’t for lack of trying. The Irish hurried Williams all day and were able to force two punts from the Heisman favorite and his stellar offense. But, when it came down to it, the inability to manage the dual threat and tackle the ball carrier quickly cost the Irish the game. Caleb Williams threw for 232 yards while picking up 35 yards with his feet (more if you consider how many circles he ran in). Beside him, Austin Jones picked apart the Irish, averaging six yards a carry for 154 total. 

The issues with the dual-threat quarterback and a star running back were not new, only amplified from earlier in the season. Henry Colombi and Khalan Laborn quite literally gave the Irish a run for their money in game two of the season. While Colombi didn’t get as much yardage on the ground as Williams did, he scrambled long enough for players to get open and to threaten the Irish that he may turn upfield. Laborn took advantage of that and brought home 163 yards, including a touchdown. 

When Cal came to visit Notre Dame Stadium, Jack Plummer did more of the work himself racking up 184 yards through the air and 34 on the ground. Coupled with a substantial performance from DeCarlos Brooks, the defense let up 17 points by the end of the third, and it took the Irish offense until late in the game to turn the tide.

In several of my picks this season, I was worried the Irish wouldn’t be able to prepare for a quarterback they didn’t know as well (as the back half of the season saw several capable backup quarterbacks). This only seemed an issue against Navy, when third-string QB Maasai Maynor introduced a real passing option into the existing triple option mix. The junior could turn to Daba Fofana who had 133 yards on the day but also completed 51 yards through the air in the fourth quarter alone, helping the Midshipmen to put up 19 unanswered points. Had the Irish offense not controlled the clock, Notre Dame would’ve been in more trouble than a 35-32 final. 

Zooming out even further, the issue is not contained to 2022 but occurred in 2021 as well. Since it became a Freeman-led defense, the Irish have had trouble with dual-threat quarterbacks. The main aggressors last year were Sam Howell and the Tarheels, Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats and Spencer Sanders and the Cowboys. 

Well, it was them — and their starting running backs. 

Against Howell, the Irish offense stepped out first with early scoring, up 17-13 at the half. The then-draft prospect put up 341 yards though and ran for 101. When he didn’t have the ball, Ty Chandler took it for 83 yards, keeping the Tarheels in the conversation. But, early Irish offense pulled through.  

Ridder and Sanders found a way to control the game and the score. 

Ridder caused the first home loss for every student on campus. The Cincinnati star was unstoppable throwing for 297 yards and running for 26 and a touchdown but scrambling for more. He was boosted by Jerome Ford who used 17 carries to steal 71 yards from the Irish. The day never turned positive for the Irish as Notre Dame found itself shut out at the half and down 17. The offense pulled through to cut that to 11, but Cincinnati controlled the clock and the Irish defense couldn’t stop time — or Ridder. 

The most obvious of these issues (besides this weekend) showed up in last year’s bowl game. At half, Spencer Sanders figured out this flaw in the Irish game and the quarterback was able to light up the scoreboard behind 496 all-purpose yards, 371 passing and 125 rushing. When forced out of the pocket, the Irish couldn’t find a way to bring him down, stuck between the options. One of those options was Jaylen Warren, yet another successful running back behind a dual threat. Warren took 82 yards from the Irish over the game, 57 of which came in the second half, complimentary of Sanders. 

The Irish have been plagued by this inability since the start of the 2021 season. It begs the question of whether this is an issue with the current personnel or with the style of coaching. Freeman discusses consistently that execution needs to start with him. But, even when he has a plan to execute, does that mean the roster he has is ready to deliver? Is it just because both of the last two years have been transitional for the defense? Do Irish fans need to wait for Freeman-style recruits to come in? Or, can the young Irish make the changes now? 

Saturday’s performance showcased a split answer to the last one. Xavier Watts looked confident with nine tackles, but young star Ben Morrison didn’t look as good as usual and Jaden Mickey — who had to step in and start for an injured Cam Hart — spent most of the evening well off his receiver, so he did not lose him deep. In the process though, he was giving up short first downs left and right as he missed several tackles and only made two. Additionally, the Irish boast an experienced front seven. With that experience comes the potential to leave. What does that mean for the Irish as they try to replace that talent?

Maybe, in that regard, the Irish will find new success as recruits come into a well-established system. Assuming Golden and Freeman make extended stays, there is a lot of room for the Irish to grow. And, this defense has found success in the last two years; that is obvious. Often the Irish are making more than enough stops, and plenty of late-game ones that matter. But so far, a defense under Freeman doesn’t seem to have an answer to the dual-threat quarterback with a trusty running back at his side. The more evidence that piles up, the sooner other teams will figure that out, and there doesn’t seem to be a clear path forward for the locker room to address this concern. 

Contact Mannion McGinley at mmcginl3@nd.edu.

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Zwiller: ZeLO’s CFP Rankings and Week 11 Picks

After a weekend of significant upsets (yes, I am counting No. 3 Georgia defeating No. 1 Tennessee as an “upset,” even though Georgia was a 10-point favorite), the playoff picture got much clearer.

Alabama, it would seem, is officially out of the playoff race as they no longer control the SEC West and are a two-loss team.

Clemson and Tennessee are now one-loss teams who do not control their destiny. Clemson needs to win out and clinch their conference to have a shot. Even then, they would likely still need help.

Tennessee is in a much more enviable position. While they are not likely to be conference champs, they should finish as a one-loss team whose only loss is to the No. 1 SEC Champions.

Meanwhile, TCU and Oregon now seemingly do control their destiny. By putting TCU fourth, the committee has said that as long as TCU emerges as an undefeated conference champ (not at all a tall task), they will make the playoff.

And though Oregon is a one-loss team, their loss comes against Georgia at the beginning of the season. Should they win the PAC-12 title, there is no reason the No. 6 Ducks should not leapfrog Tennessee.

So, this week, I want to pick games that should impact the following weekend’s CFP rankings.

But first, ZeLO and FPI went 39-21 (.650) last weekend. Because it was a somewhat crazy week, the much more conservative ZeLO won the Brier Point tiebreaker (316.24-313.09), so, very little difference between the two models.

Now, onto the picks!

No. 25 Washington @ No. 6 Oregon

By putting Oregon in 6th behind the one-loss Volunteers, the Committee has shown they value Tennessee’s loss to Georgia much more than Oregon’s one loss. However, by putting Oregon at No. 6, I think the committee suggests that a one-loss Pac-12 Oregon squad could and should make the CFP.

Oregon has a 60.8% chance of winning this week, so the team should continue its CFP run. I could see the Huskies offense giving the Ducks some fits, so this will be a good game.

No. 4 TCU @ No. 18 Texas

This is arguably the most challenging game remaining for TCU in a schedule that is already challenging. ZeLO currently ranks TCU’s remaining strength of schedule seventh. Texas, Baylor, and Iowa State are all legitimate threats to TCU’s CFP ambitions.

Though Texas is a seven-point favorite, ZeLO currently gives TCU a 63.1% chance of beating the Longhorns.

While I do think that TCU can win the Big 12, I do think this may be where their unbeaten streak ends. Texas at home is a tough challenge (ask the Tide). TCU’s habit of needing to comeback may catch up with them.

No. 22 UCF @ No. 17 Tulane

This might be the most crucial game I will talk about this week. Why?

UCF and Tulane are the strongest AAC teams and the likeliest to win their conference. Tulane is currently undefeated in conference play, while UCF is just a one-loss team.

If UCF wins, they should make their conference championship (the AAC takes the two highest teams for its championship game) as they boast a win over 7-2 Cincinnati. Tulane would then play what amounts to an elimination game against Cincinnati in their season finale.

If Tulane wins, they become a lock to make their conference championship, even if they lose to Cincinnati. Both scenarios are equally likely, with ZeLO giving the Green Wave just a 52.7% chance to win.

No. 9 Alabama @ No. 11 Ole Miss

In contrast to UCF and Tulane, this might be the least important game of the week. That feels weird to say. But in all likelihood, the two-loss Tide have already been eliminated from the CFP.

Ole Miss might have a chance to win the SEC West (and the glorious prize of being dismantled by Georgia on national television for 60 minutes). But it is a longshot, as LSU has a head-to-head advantage over the Rebels. Alabama should win this game, with ZeLO giving the Tide a 55% chance of victory. But Ole Miss could make this interesting, utilizing a high-powered offense and a home-field advantage to give Alabama trouble. Alabama is tied for most penalties per game in the country. Last week, Death Valley helped contribute to that stat, as the Tide took nine penalties for 92 yards.

Louisville @ No. 10 Clemson

Thanks in large part to Notre Dame, ZeLO majorly downgraded the Tigers. Though ZeLO still has Clemson as its favorite to win the Atlantic and the ACC, Clemson took a significant step back in ZeLO’s CFP rankings, falling to 14th.

As a result, Clemson has just a 51.7% chance to beat Louisville and keep its playoff hopes alive. A two-loss team has never made the CFP. And the Committee is not going to start with this iteration of Clemson.

Even if Clemson does defeat against Louisville, they feel like a stretch to make it to the CFP. But a solid bounce-back showing could be just what the Tigers need.

No. 15 North Carolina @ Wake Forest

At the start of the season, I wrote that I was skeptical of ZeLO0s faith in UNC. ZeLO has UNC as a divisional dark horse behind both Pitt and Miami. Pitt took a step back this season, and the entire college football world discovered that the U is not back.

So, UNC is looking to win ten games, the division, and maybe even the conference. Right now, the Tar Heels have an excellent chance to win 10 games and reach the conference championship against a weaker-than-normal Clemson.

However, ZeLO thinks Wake will dash Carolina’s hopes of making the CFP. These two teams are dead even on a neutral site, so the Wake home-field advantage is the difference maker here. It is slight, but Wake’s 55% chance to win might end Carolina’s CFP ambitions before Clemson does.

Look for Wake to take advantage of a porous Carolina defense that would struggle to stop a middle school flag football squad.

No. 20 Notre Dame @ Navy

By dominating Clemson in all three facets of their matchup, Notre Dame has launched itself back into the top 25 rankings. In all honesty, if ND wins and winds up 9-3, you can argue that the season was incredibly successful, despite the bumpy start.

ZeLO has the Irish going 2-1 down the stretch, and this game against Navy is a winnable one for Notre Dame (62.9%). Though it would not shock me if Notre Dame went 2-2 in its last four, losing to Navy and BC but beating Clemson and USC. Because why not?

The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@nd-hcc.edu.

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ZeLO: Overlooking the college football landscape

Whoever, you are, wherever you are, breathe. Feel better?

After an insane four weeks of Notre Dame, there is a lull in the season courtesy of an early bye week. The Irish are at an unexpected 2-2 record, and with this bye comes a chance for both fans and the team to collect their breath and prepare for the following slate of games. 

Moreover, with the collective pause comes time for ZeLO to look forward to the rest of the season — a bigger-picture view. But first, a minor update on the performance of ZeLO thus far. 

In the past four weeks, ZeLO had fallen behind, trailing by FPI by 17 games. Granted, that is small in the scheme of nearly 300 games, but FPI is firmly in the lead. This weekend, however, that changed (a bit). 

On Saturday, ZeLO beat ESPN in a head-to-head pick ’em competition. ZeLO picked 54-12 (.818) to FPI’s 51-15 (.773).

Is that a minor victory? Absolutely, FPI is currently 14 whole games ahead of ZeLO and has an incredible Brier Points margin. But it is a good sign. ZeLO is learning and reacting to stats and results as they come in, and this week’s result shows that. 

And so, with that announcement, it is time to look at ZeLO’s projections for the rest of the season.

Notre Dame

Last week I wrote that ZeLO had picked UNC to beat Notre Dame by a thin margin, primarily because of the high-powered Carolina offense. I did add that UNC looked like a paper ram because of their weak strength of schedule. 

And that was precisely what happened: ND exploited a poor UNC defense and lit up the scoreboard on offense. 

That data point was a massive change for Notre Dame, and it took the Fighting Irish from a team that was at best .500 to a solid 7-win team. It is probably not what you are looking for if you are among the Irish faithful, but it is at the very least good news. ND is 2-2, so they still have plenty of time to prove me wrong, but they need to show their growth against UNC is sustainable and not a flash in the pan against a poor defense. 

SEC

In August, the four SEC East teams I highlighted were Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Kentucky, with the Wildcats more of a wildcard team with high upside. Kentucky seized on that upside and is now third in the SEC East as a high eight-win team and a few simulations where they even turn in nine wins. Tennessee has crossed the double-digit threshold, but Georgia is still expected to make it to the title game. 

Not a ton has changed in the West, though it is worth noting that Brian Kelly and the LSU Tigers are now a team to be reckoned with and are currently tracking as a high seven, low eight-win team. Otherwise, Roll Tide. 

B10

The B10 East has stayed relatively static, though Michigan has closed the gap with Ohio State and the two teams should decide who wins the division (and the conference) when they face off in November. Penn State is surging, though, and has an outside chance to be the East representative come conference championship week. 

ZeLO had initially picked the Wisconsin Badgers to win the West. But that prediction seems less likely by the day. Now, the Golden Gophers seem like the strongest candidate, thanks to their thrashing of Michigan State.

ACC

In the preseason, the Clemson Tigers seemed like a lock to win the Atlantic. And while the Tigers are still favored, the NC State Wolf Pack certainly have a chance to take the throne from them. We will find out this weekend if they can. The FSU Seminoles are considered a strong team, too. But they have yet to enter the same tier as NC State and Clemson.

The Coastal, the less clear division, now has a clear favorite. Because of North Carolina’s atrocious defense and Miami’s … overall play, Pitt is now the clear favorite to win the division and has a projected two-game lead on Miami and UNC.

Pac-12

I will go ahead and throw out the unique prediction of Arizona State being a contender for the Pac-12. Just a perk of beta testing a brand-new model, I suppose. But do not worry, because ZeLO is back with an even hotter take. Washington and USC will face off for the Conference Crown. At least the Huskies are ranked (unlike Arizona State in the preseason).

B12

As my colleague Joseph Tunney wrote earlier this week, Oklahoma State at Baylor has the potential to be one of the most critical games in the B12 conference schedule. Right now, ZeLO has Baylor and Oklahoma State as two of the three favorites to reach the conference championship, with the third being Oklahoma. This matchup can potentially shape the Conference Championship game later this season. 

G5

As of right now, the AAC Title game looks to be a showdown between Cincinnati and UCF. Though the Tulane Green Wave -— yes, Tulane -— has an outside chance to make it, too 

I am sure everyone reading this loves the Sun Belt Conference. But why would you not? Do you not just love a group of spunky underdogs? In the Sun Belt, the two strong contenders to come out of the East are Coastal Carolina and James Madison, who was recently promoted to the FFCS. In the West, it’s South Alabama.

Conference USA has a handful of teams with the potential to make the conference title game. However, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the UAB Blazers are the leading contenders.

In the Mountain West, Air Force still looks like the team to win the Mountain Division, though Boise State has had quite the fallout. In the West division, it looks like it should be Fresno State or San Diego State (I have absolutely nothing on that one).

The only strong-seeming team in the MAC East is Miami (OH), so at least there should be one successful Miami team this season. Toledo seems like the surest bet in the West, with Central Michigan and NIU looking like potential outside threats.

Unlike last time, I am going to offer a CFP prediction (though it will be brief — covering ten conferences and ND is kind of tricky in 1,100 words). 

Conference Champs

Alabama beats Georgia

Ohio State beats Minnesota 

Clemson beats Pitt

Washington beats USC (yes, this is real, what can I say)

Baylor beats Oklahoma

College Football Playoff

No. 1 Alabama vs. No. 4 Clemson

No. 2 Ohio State vs. No. 3 Georgia

Contact Tom Zwiller at tzwiller@hcc-nd.edu.

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Penalty kick dooms Irish men’s soccer in 1-0 defeat

The Irish entered Saturday night’s conference clash with North Carolina with a healthy dose of momentum. Eight days previously, freshman midfielder KK Baffour had scored at the death to deliver Notre Dame their first ACC victory, 2-1 over Virginia. Then, in a Wednesday non-conference battle, the Irish dominated and found the back of the net four times against Chicago State.

However, on Saturday, familiar issues resurfaced for the Irish. Notre Dame generated only a few offensive chances, and failed to finish any. As a result, they fell 1-0 to the Tar Heels in a frustrating defeat.

For the third time this season, the Irish gave up a goal via penalty kick. A foul in the box gave UNC the prime scoring chance and Milo Garvanian buried his team-leading third goal of the season. 

It was really the only scoring chance the Tar Heels produced. Irish junior goalkeeper Bryan Dowd was only required to make one relatively easy save after the goal. The Irish backline produced a cohesive effort that limited North Carolina to very few chances. After giving up five goals in their first two games, the Irish have surrendered just four in the past five contests. 

“First halves of conference games are always going to be cagey, and we were really unfortunate with the penalty there. I’m really proud of how the guys responded, because that’s a really frustrating thing when you’re playing well,” Irish head coach Chad Riley noted. “That’s arguably our best performance of the year against a really quality opponent.”

Notre Dame earned double the amount of corner kicks (4-2) and outshot North Carolina 10-6. However, only two shots found their way on frame, both in the way of quality scoring chances. First, junior halfback Paddy Burns delivered a rocket of a left-footed volley. The slicing shot seemed destined for the lower left corner, but North Carolina keeper Andrew Cordes made a reflex save with his right hand. Burns generated another chance off of a corner kick. Baffour delivered a near post cross, and Burns flicked it towards the far post corner. The flick evaded Cordes, but a North Carolina defender saved the Tar Heels with a leaping goal-line clearance.

“I think they’re a tough team. Nine shots in the second half. North Carolina is always going to be a good defensive team, and I’m really proud of the way we played,” Riley said. “I think the second half, we were great. I thought it was one of our best performances. An inch here or there and we tie the game — and we maybe win it.” 

Beyond those two chances from Burns, quality opportunities were few and far between. The Irish offered continuous pressure and out-possessed the Tar Heels in the game by a 57-43% margin. They kept the ball in the visitor’s half of the field for most of the half. But they just couldn’t break through.

“We have a fit, deep squad. Our energy continues to grow. I felt like we were inches away from getting a couple,” Riley said. 

The Irish pushed hard late, getting one more excellent chance. After an Irish shot ricocheted off the crossbar, junior forward Daniel Russo faced a wide-open net. However, with heavy pressure from a defender on his heels, Russo airmailed the rebound effort. Soon there after, North Carolina secured the clean sheet victory.

Notre Dame plays Division III Kalamazoo on Tuesday, and they’ll return to conference play next Friday at Alumni Stadium. They kick off versus Boston College at 6 p.m. 

Contact Aidan at athoma28@nd.edu

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Notre Dame notches second win of the season against Tar Heels

Notre Dame emerged victorious against the UNC Tar Heels, notching 45 points in their highest scoring match of the season thus far. This puts the Irish at 2-2 ahead of their bye week.

This is the second win for head coach Marcus Freeman, making him 2-3 in his tenure at Notre Dame. Following the game in Chapel Hill, Freeman remarked that he was proud of his team, while simultaneously acknowledging their room for growth.

“We played really well,” he said. “And the beauty of it is there’s always room to get better. We can go and we can learn from a lot of situations that happen in the game.”

Some of these situations happened early on for the team. The Irish finally won a coin toss, electing to defer and receive at the start of the second half. This put the Notre Dame defense on the field to start. However, despite their previous showings this season, their initial performance was not what was expected of the usually-solid unit. The Tar Heels plowed through the line, ending the drive in a 12 play, 76 yard touchdown. Freeman said that he told his defense to be more aggressive on the field after understanding UNC quarterback Drake Maye could run.

“You have to be aggressive, but understand you have to stay in your rush lanes and it was good to see the adjustment from our defensive line,” he said. “Like I said on the sidelines to them, ‘I don’t want you to play cautious, but I want you to be aware that we can’t just rush past the quarterback because he’ll step up and he’ll run,’ and so it was good to see that.”

When the offense took over, a similar shutdown occurred. Two of junior quarterback Drew Pyne’s passes were batted down, effectively stunting the drive in a minute of play. The Irish were forced to punt after only gaining eight yards on the drive, and were again unable to score on their next offensive drive. Junior quarterback Drew Pyne’s potential touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Jayden Thomas rendered itself incomplete, and graduate student kicker Blake Grupe’s field goal attempt went south to keep the score 7-0 UNC.

However, this was the last true dry spell the Irish would have all night. At the start of the second quarter, continuing from their final drive of the first, the Irish began with a first down. Pyne launched the ball to a wide-open Logan Diggs for a 34 yard play after a fake out from junior running back Chris Tyree drew some of the Tar Heels’ defense. Tyree followed up with nine, five and 10 yard gains to put the Irish in a first and goal situation. After the snap, it seemed everyone was covered until junior tight end Michael Mayer flew into the middle for an open pass from Pyne, which he carried into the end zone. The kick from graduate student Blake Grupe was good, tying the game and turning the tides of the matchup.

Freeman spoke on the importance of getting Mayer more involved in their offensive game plan. The All-American tight end recorded 88 receiving yards on the night, accounting for 30% of the total receiving yards. This comes after only receiving for 10 yards against Cal the week before.

“You’re a fool if you can’t find a way to get the ball in his hands,” Freeman said.

After Mayer’s touchdown, each consecutive drive for the Irish was a scoring one. The defense promptly forced the Tar Heels to punt on the following drive, and when the Irish took the field again, another touchdown was quick to follow. Pyne passed to Mayer in jet-sweep fashion, ending in a gain of seven yards as the tight end shoved his way forward. Freeman said that that method of passing is not one you would usually expect to see Mayer involved in, but that it is a testament to how many different options he can perform on the field. 

Following this, sophomore running back Audric Estime clocked a 29 yard rush, putting Pyne in position to make a 30 yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Lorenzo Styles, Jr. A rushing the passer penalty was additionally called on UNC, and was enforced on the following drive.

On the next Irish offensive showing, after UNC made a successful touchdown drive, the Irish capitalized on their third touchdown drive. Tyree found a hole in the defense to rush for a 19 yard gain, with Diggs following it up with a gain of 17. On Pyne’s next pass to Mayer, the tight end continued to plow forward with three defenders on him to put the Irish firmly in the red zone. The attempt ended with Estime falling forward one yard for the touchdown. To end the half, the Irish made a field goal attempt after being shut down, putting them ahead 31-14.

The Irish continued their hot streak on the first drive of the second half. Pyne found a wide open Diggs near the sideline, and the running back walked the ball into the endzone to make it 31-14, Notre Dame. 

The defense quickly shut down the Tar Heels’ response as Justin Ademilola recovered a Tar Heels fumble. Freeman noted his pride in how the defense played, given the caliber of the Tar Heels offense.

“It was a challenge to our defense to stop the run,” Freeman said. “I think the lowest amount [UNC] had offensively in the first three games is 183 rushing yards, and to hold that offense 66 rushing yards is a great accomplishment by our defense.”

Pyne then hit up Styles for an 11 yard gain to put them in the red zone. His following pass to Mayer was ruled incomplete as the tight end received the ball in the endzone, but the play went under further review. Despite the fact that Mayer had his foot down, his heel was over the line, and the ruling on the field stood.

The Irish took a time out when they were 4th and 2, attempting to psych out the Tar Heels by having both the offensive and kicking units out on the field in huddles. Ultimately, the team went for it. After Pyne’s pass to Tyree was ruled incomplete, signaling the end of their scoring attempt, a pass interference call was enacted on the defense, resetting the drive to a first down. UNC head coach Mack Brown stormed onto the field to argue the ruling with the refs, only to get an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on him. These calls allowed Estime to soar over the huddle for a touchdown.

Notre Dame’s next drive resulted in another score for the Irish. A series of penalties were called on the UNC defense, adding to the momentum the Irish were gathering. After Estime was pushed out of bounds, unnecessary roughness allowed the Irish to move forward to first and goal at the seven yard line. On the following play, another personal foul for unnecessary roughness was called when Pyne was hit out of bounds after running the ball. This caused the Tar Heels to begin fighting among their own ranks, which was broken up by the referees and fellow teammates. Pass interference was called on Pyne’s red zone pass to Styles, Jr., which gave them the first down needed to complete their scoring attempt. Tyree rushed the final yard into the end zone and Grupe’s kick was good. These would be the final points the Irish notched.

When the defense took the field, JD Bertrand was ejected for targeting, giving the Tar Heels an opportunity for a score. Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye threw two incomplete redzone passes before Omarion Hampton rushed for the touchdown (ND 45, UNC 26). However, freshman cornerback Jaden Mickey broke the pass from Maye during their two-point conversion attempt. This is the second time the Tar Heels’ two-point conversions were thwarted by the Irish defense in the second half.

This is the second game in a row Bertrand was disqualified for targeting. Because he missed the first half of today’s game and will miss the first half against BYU, he will have missed a full game of play this season. Freeman noted that he wants to work on different ways of tackling with the defense, and specifically with Bertrand, to avoid calls like this in the future.

“As I told JD [Bertrand] on the field, it’s our job to learn from that situation,” he said. “We have to learn from it, and we have to change or you’re going to continue to get targeting calls.”

In the final scoring drive of the night, the Tar Heels gained one last touchdown. Another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty was called on wide receiver Andre Green, Jr., but because the call came after the touchdown, the loss of yardage did not count against their score.

Despite this win, Freeman noted the team must see the bigger picture of their success: progression.

“I’m really happy with where this team is progressing,” he said. “Sometimes we let the outcome kind of mask some things, right, and continue to look at ‘Is this a football team that’s getting better?’ And it is. They’re playing better. They’re practicing better. And that’s the challenge: continue to get better.”

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Creating tiers of ACC women’s soccer

Through seven games of non-conference play, it would be difficult to call Notre Dame women’s soccer’s season anything but a roaring success. The team has notched a perfect 7-0-0 record, with every win coming by a multiple goal margin. The defense has allowed just three goals across 630 minutes of play. And with ACC play on the horizon, the Irish have risen to 6th in the Coaches Poll — their highest ranking in years.

But ACC play should provide the Irish with some of their hardest tests yet. As always, the ACC is tremendously deep, with a host of teams in contention for both the conference crown and the NCAA tournament. Here’s a look at where the best teams stand in the country’s strongest soccer conference.

TIER ONE: Title favorites, College Cup contenders

The teams: UNC, Virginia, Duke and Notre Dame

This group is led by North Carolina, who have looked near-unstoppable at times. Their handling of a pair of quality teams in Tennessee and Texas in the first weeks of the season were reminiscent of prior Tar Heel teams that would hardly look threatened until the College Cup. UNC came back down to earth with a loss to UCLA, but rebounded as well as one could have asked with a 3-0 dispatching of local rival, and fellow College Cup contender, Duke.

Virginia hasn’t played as intensive of a non-conference slate as UNC, but the Cavaliers passed their biggest test with a 1-0 win on the road against Georgetown. A home draw against Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) ended what had been a perfect run to start the season, but a trip to Chapel Hill this weekend could allow Virginia to respond with a major statement.

Duke has been the most inconsistent of any of the top tier. A furious comeback against Tennessee and an impressive road thumping of TCU give the Blue Devils a pair of ranked wins. But, in their most recent outing, they were outclassed in front of a home crowd against North Carolina. Led by one of the country’s best strikers in Michelle Cooper, the Blue Devils have the pieces. But, they’ll need to regain momentum after a big rivalry loss.

Rounding out the top tier is, perhaps, the most surprising addition: Notre Dame. There was a lot of hope for an experienced Irish team that has eight upperclassmen starters. But, I don’t think anyone expected Notre Dame to open the season a perfect 7-0-0 with dominant wins over ranked St. Louis and Wisconsin teams, and a total goal difference of +18 through seven games. If the Irish maintain their pace in conference play, they’ll be on a very short list of national title contenders.

TIER TWO: Title dark horses, NCAA tournament threats

The teams: Florida State, Clemson and Wake Forest

Florida State has been perhaps the most fascinating team in the ACC over the offseason and regular season. The 2021 national champions entered the season largely unknown, playing with a new coach and a largely changed roster, nobody was sure where the Seminoles floor and ceiling would be. Through six games, the question of floor has been answered. Florida State dispatched four of their weaker non-conference games with relative ease. But, the ceiling of the Seminoles is harder to determine. In their two games against ranked teams, Florida State has produced a solid but uninspiring two draws. Oct. 6 will likely be the first day anyone can make a serious guess as to the Seminoles’ odds of a College Cup comeback as this is when they start an absolutely brutal four game stretch against Virginia, Notre Dame, Duke and North Carolina.

Clemson is another strange read in trying to sort out the rest of the pack behind the obvious standouts from the first half of the season. Much like Florida State, the Tigers have handled their weaker non-conference games without issue. However, they hold an unimpressive 0-1-2 record against likely tournament teams. A visit from Notre Dame on Thursday should say a lot about the Tigers’ chances of putting together a dark horse ACC title charge.

Rounding out the second tier is a seemingly always underrated Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons have been far from flashy this season, winning just three of their eight games by more than one goal, but they’ve also been effective. They’re yet to lose, and have a credible draw against a very good Auburn team in their one test against ranked opposition. The Deacons surprised a lot of teams last year in an underdog run to the ACC semi-finals. So far this year they’ve shown a lot of promise that they could make a similar run. 

TIER THREE: Possible NCAA tournament teams, but unlikely ACC contenders

The teams: North Carolina State, Pitt and Virginia Tech

North Carolina State has been another tough team to get a bead on over the first half of the season. They’re 1-1-2 in the month of September (as opposed to 3-0-1 in August), with a confusing pair of ties with both nationally ranked South Carolina as well as lowly unranked Nebraska. They don’t have a statement win on their resume yet, and will have as much of an incentive as anyone to bring their best in conference play to get into the tournament field.

Pitt looked like a potential tier 2 team for much of non-conference play, though a loss to VCU brought the Panthers back down to Earth. But with senior forward partnership Amanda West and Leah Pais combining for 28 points in just eight games, it would be unwise to count out Pitt as a serious threat in the ACC.

Finishing this final tier is Virginia Tech. After surviving a brutal opening day scare against William and Mary, the Hokies have straightened out and worked their way to a solid 6-1-1 record. Much like the other teams in this tier, however, their lack of a statement win means they have work to do in ACC play.

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Sports

What we saw in week 1 of college football

After a far-too-long offseason (and a smattering of Week 0 matchups), college football is back, and with its triumphant return came everything we have come to know and love about the sport. A wild opening weekend featured upsets, dominating performances, nail-biting finishes, and several teams finding bizarre ways to win. Here are five of the most notable happenings from Week 1.

Florida kicks off new era with an upset win

After last season produced their first ever Pac-12 championship and Rose Bowl appearance, No. 7 Utah entered the fall as a trendy playoff pick among fans and media alike. While a playoff berth is not yet completely out of the question, it is certainly far less likely after the Utes were defeated 29-26 by Florida in Gainesville. The Gators trailed late in the fourth quarter, but “The Swamp,” known nationally as one of the most difficult stadiums for visiting teams to win in, worked its magic.

With under two minutes to play, star dual-threat quarterback Anthony Richardson ran for a go-ahead touchdown, his third of the day. And while the Utes nearly responded, Florida’s Amari Burney picked off a Utah pass in the endzone to seal the win. Saturday’s game was the debut for new Florida head coach Billy Napier, who made the jump to the SEC after four highly successful seasons at Louisiana.

Though it is too soon to know how his tenure will play out, it could not have gotten off to a better start than with a clutch victory against a top-10 opponent. Especially after the Gators finished 2021 with a 6-7 record that included several tight losses caused by late-game miscues. It appears doubtful that anyone will challenge Georgia in the SEC East this year. But Florida is already showing signs of a program that is back on the rise.

Wild finish in App State-North Carolina

On Saturday afternoon, North Carolina headed to the mountains to face Appalachian State in a much-anticipated in-state matchup. The Mountaineers came out of the gates swinging, taking an early 21-7 lead. But a dominant second and third quarter stretch gave North Carolina a seemingly insurmountable 20-point advantage entering the fourth.

Then came one of the highest scoring quarters ever in college football, as the teams combined for 62 points in a chaotic final period. With under a minute left, an App State touchdown cut the Tar Heel lead to 56-55. But a gamble to go for two and the win did not pay off, as an incomplete pass on the conversion try appeared to seal a UNC victory. That is, until the Tar Heels not only recovered the onside kick but returned it for a touchdown. That extended their lead to eight but inadvertently gave App State another chance to score in what was still a one-possession game. Albeit one with only 28 seconds remaining.

Turns out, that was plenty of time for the Mountaineers, as they continued to torch a North Carolina defense that struggled all day, needing only two plays to score yet another touchdown. It was only after another two-point conversion stop and onside kick recovery that the Tar Heels could breathe a sigh of relief after winning a game in which they surrendered 40 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Iowa’s improbable victory

Iowa 7, South Dakota State 3. At first glance, that sounds like it could be a baseball score. But even knowing that it came from a football game, it still does not seem like a hugely surprising result. Iowa’s offense has been much-maligned in recent years. And while it is strange to see a team win while scoring just a single touchdown, it is certainly plausible.

But that is not what happened, as the Hawkeyes eked out a victory over an FCS opponent in one of the strangest ways possible. After a first half slugfest that saw the score tied at 3-3, Iowa punter Tory Taylor dropped in a perfect punt that pinned the Jackrabbits at their own one-yard line. Sure enough, a safety resulted on the ensuing play. In the fourth quarter, Taylor placed another punt inside the South Dakota State 10-yard line. Two plays later, the Hawkeyes’ Joe Evans recorded a sack in the endzone for the second Iowa safety of the game.

Somehow, that pair of safeties was all they needed to secure an unlikely season-opening win. In a truly herculean feat, the Iowa defense held the Jackrabbits scoreless in the second half in addition to scoring the four game-winning points. Iowa has experienced great success in recent years behind an elite defense and mediocre offensive play. But they most likely cannot count on winning many more games in which their defense outscores the offense.

Kicking struggles prove costly

It is not uncommon to see college football games decided, at least partially, by missed kicks. Kickers have one of the most difficult and pressure-packed roles in the sport, and most teams do not have an NFL-caliber player at the position, leading to a fair number of misses in high-leverage situations. What is surprising is for these crucial mistakes to occur on extra points rather than field goals, and we saw two instances of this over the weekend.

Hosting rival No. 13 NC State, East Carolina had a chance to pick up an upset win when, trailing 21-14, they scored a late fourth-quarter touchdown that would have tied the game if not for a shocking miss on the PAT. The Pirates forced a quick three and out and drove down the field in the final seconds only to miss another kick. This one was a potential game-winning field goal, sending the Wolfpack home as fortunate victors.

Florida State and LSU faced off on Sunday night in a showcase game that served as new LSU head coach Brian Kelly’s debut with the Tigers after leaving Notre Dame. The LSU offense was stagnant for much of the game but capped off a masterful 99-yard drive with a miraculous touchdown pass as time expired to make the score 24-23 in the Seminoles’ favor. The Tigers opted to kick rather than going for two. And sure enough, Florida State blocked the extra point to win the game. Special teams make special teams, folks.

Georgia and Alabama are in a class of their own

Last year, Georgia and Alabama met in the national championship game, with Georgia claiming their first title since 1980 in a 33-18 win. After the impressive displays that both teams put on this weekend, it would come as no surprise to see a rematch in this year’s playoff. Georgia kicked off their quest to repeat with a huge statement win, traveling to Eugene to face No. 11 Oregon and returning with a 49-3 win under their belt in a game that was somehow even less competitive than the score would indicate. The Bulldogs’ roster was decimated by this year’s NFL Draft. But their consistently elite recruiting classes have allowed them to retool and come back just as strong.

Meanwhile, Alabama began their revenge tour with a casual 55-0 steamrolling of Utah State. Head coach Nick Saban recently referred to the Crimson Tide’s last season as a “rebuilding year.” And despite finishing as SEC champions and national runners-up, that claim may not have been as outlandish as it seemed. The Tide return Heisman winner Bryce Young, potential No. 1 overall draft pick Will Anderson, and a host of other stars eager to make up for their championship-game loss. Nearly all of the season is still ahead. But Georgia and Alabama both look ready to fight for another title.

Matthew Crow

Contact Matthew at mcrow@nd.edu