Associated Press

Monday’s Leftover: Notre Dame embraces Adams’ Heisman hopes with ’33 Trucking’ theme

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Brian Kelly can hope for a lot of things, and many of them may come true. After all, Notre Dame has put itself into the thick of the College Football Playoff discussion as the calendar turns to November. That was certainly something the Irish coach hoped for, and it has come to be a reality.

His hopes for restraint from Heisman voters may be a bit more far-fetched, though grounded such a thought may be. After Notre Dame junior running back Josh Adams ran for 202 yards and a touchdown against North Carolina State on Saturday, Kelly assessed Adams’ chances at the award for college football’s best individual player.

“There are other great players that are up for the Heisman, but [Adams] continues to play against top competition and continues to excel on a very good football team,” Kelly said after the 35-14 victory. “There’s plenty of really good football left in this season, and I think we should just let it play out.”

That’s all well and good, even accurate, but it does not seem quite likely, especially considering Heisman voters could cast their ballots now if they so wanted.

“If you wait until the end of the year, a lot of the questions will get answered,” Kelly said. “If you don’t vote — if you hold your vote until the end of the year, that would be great.”

Great, logical, appropriate. Also not the habit of many voters. Some would argue the trend of premature voters led to Louisville quarterback Lamar Jackson winning the award in 2016. The Cardinals lost their final two regular season games, and in the final three Jackson accounted for only six of his season-long 51 total touchdowns.

This space, fortunately does not have a Heisman vote. It will not bother to say who should or should not win the honor. It will, however, take a look at the race from 35,000 feet.

It is most likely only one or two running backs finish the season in the Heisman mix. Eventually, one or two will emerge from the rest, along with a quarterback or two doing the same at that position. Some of these conclusions will hinge on team finishes.

With that paring-to-come in mind, let’s simply compare facts about the three running backs at the head of the pack: Adams, Stanford’s Bryce Love and Penn State’s Saquon Barkley.

Adams in eight games, leading Notre Dame to a 7-1 record: 132 rushes for 1,169 yards and nine touchdowns, 8.86 yards per carry. Also adds 10 catches for 82 yards, making for an average of 8.81 yards per offensive touch.
Barkley in eight games, leading the Nittany Lions to a 7-1 record: 138 carries for 801 yards and nine touchdowns, 5.80 yards per carry. Also adds 36 catches for 471 yards and three scorings, making for an average of 7.31 yards per offensive touch, as well as 11 kickoff returns for 378 yards and two more touchdowns. 1,650 total yards and 14 total touchdowns.
Love in seven games, missing the Cardinal’s most-recent victory due to ankle injury. Stanford is 6-2 overall, 5-2 with Love: 135 rushes for 1,387 yards and 11 touchdowns, 10.27 yards per carry. Also adds four receptions for 19 yards, making for an average of 10.12 yards per offensive touch.

Whether Adams wins the Heisman or not, or even makes the trophy ceremony in New York City, Notre Dame has decided to go all-in on a marketing campaign to push his candidacy. Along with repeated mention, the “33 Trucking” theme featured hats over the weekend, because some physical gimmick theoretically serves to enhance the campaign’s potency.

Perhaps a more notable effect, Adams took the podium during postgame interviews, not the Irish starting quarterback as is the norm. Wherever he delivers his answers, Adams attempts to shirk the individual attention.

“I know [the campaign] has my number on it, but I don’t think it’s built around me,” he said.

That is a nice sentiment, but the Heisman hype most certainly is built around Adams. His point about the offensive game plan, though, holds more merit.

“It’s built around that offensive line and the confidence that we have in them as a team,” he said. “… The game and our offense is definitely built on those guys up front. From left to right, we have amazing guys up there. They lead this team and they bring all the energy and we do the best that we can to kind of feed off of them and really try to push the tempo.

“They bring the aggression and have that mindset to dominate, and it kind of spreads out throughout the entire offense.”

That offensive line deserves more credit than it gets, but such is the nature of being an offensive lineman. A Heisman-winning running back may be the best validation for the line’s season, and Notre Dame has made that a priority moving forward.

Notre Dame Sunday Notebook: Injury update and punt block blocks

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As impressive as Notre Dame’s six-game winning streak has been, the most underappreciated part of it may be the continued relative health of the Irish. Aside from junior defensive tackle Elijah Taylor missing the season due to a Lisfranc fracture in spring practice, senior defensive tackle Daniel Cage taking a year away from football to tend to knee and concussion issues and senior receiver Freddy Canteen undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery, Notre Dame has stayed about as healthy as can ever be hoped for eight games into the season.

Such continued in the 35-14 Irish victory over North Carolina State on Saturday. Junior tight end Alizé Mack suffered a concussion attempting a diving catch along the sidelines in the second quarter. No other injury should threaten playing time against Wake Forest this weekend, per Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly.

Senior linebacker and captain Nyles Morgan favored his shoulder after colliding with fellow senior linebacker Greer Martini along the sideline Saturday, but Morgan returned and appeared no worse for the wear.

“He’s had some chronic shoulder [issues] throughout the year,” Kelly said Sunday. “It’s just a matter of protecting him during the week, but he’ll be fine and ready to go.”

Sophomore running back Tony Jones did not receive any carries against the Wolfpack due to a hip pointer on the opening kickoff. Combining that with the continued nuisance of a sprained ankle has Jones growing impatient this season.

“It’s just been one of those things where he’s getting a little frustrated, is the best way to describe it,” Kelly said. “He was a little bit better today. We just have to get him in a good frame of mind and get him off and running because he’s a really good player.”

Senior defensive tackle Jonathan Bonner picked up a sprained ankle that Kelly specified was not a high ankle injury, and junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush mildly sprained his left ankle, but Kelly expects no limitations for Wimbush moving forward.

“[He] checked in today, felt good,” Kelly said. “He’ll enter tomorrow’s workout with no restrictions.”

The missed block on the punt block
When North Carolina State blocked a Notre Dame punt at the goal line in the first quarter Saturday to give itself a 7-0 lead, the uneducated eye — this eye — put the impetus on the mishap on sophomore Daelin Hayes for turning a rusher loose to devote a second pair of hands to Wolfpack senior defensive end Bradley Chubb.

In the postgame media availability, senior linebacker and captain Drue Tranquill donned his captain’s hat and took responsibility for the missed block, serving as the up-back on the punt.

Neither was correct.

Kelly attributed the special teams disaster to miscommunication leading to sophomore long snapper John Shannon missing his assignment.

“Our long snapper has to block in protection, that’s what’s unique about this,” Kelly said. “This was some miscommunication as to whether he was going to be part of the check. We moved it from an overload right to an overload left. The center thought differently. Everybody else was on the same page.

“… It was a blown protection. Obviously it can’t happen.”

Aside from the blocked punt, Irish junior punter Tyler Newsome averaged 34.6 yards on seven punts, a seemingly-low figure, but it was part of Notre Dame’s plan to neuter the Wolfpack’s dangerous punt return possibilities. Five of those boots went unreturned, and the two others gained a total of 22 yards.

Looking forward to Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons beat Louisville 42-32 on Saturday, raising their record to 5-3 after suffering three consecutive tough losses in ACC play. Of course, much of Wake Forest is very familiar to Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko, who held the same role with the Deacons for the last three seasons.

“We’ve got a great challenge,” Kelly said. “They’re going to play inspired football, obviously, with coach Elko here. We know what we’re going to get from Wake Forest.”

Things We Learned: Notre Dame’s in-season improvements make the previously-maybe become increasingly possible

Associated Press
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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — Let’s get this out of the way now: I was wrong.

The Notre Dame team that dominated No. 14 North Carolina State on Saturday was not the same version of the Irish that lost to Georgia in the season’s second week.

“We’ve gotten better each and every week,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said after the 35-14 victory. “We’re physically stronger, so mentally we’ve established a mindset as to how we play. Our kids are trusting the teaching.

“If you take the physical, the mental and the teaching, it’s a team that is getting better.”

The physical and the mental are most-intertwined in the Irish rushing game. Notre Dame briefly dabbled in a sideline-to-sideline ground game this weekend, attempting to get to the corner before turning upfield. The Wolfpack defense, led by senior defensive end Bradley Chubb, quickly relegated that strategy to fruitless at best and loss-inducing at worst, just as the Bulldogs did. In response, the Irish returned to what they do best, running up the middle through holes the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

That philosophical shift makes the ground attack led by junior running back Josh Adams a force no one outside of Alabama wants to reckon with. Gashing North Carolina State for a total of 325 yards on 52 carries, an average of 6.25 yards per rush, will drop the Wolfpack down any defensive rankings. The sample size of a 12-game scheduled season will have that effect, but it does not reduce the actual abilities of that veteran-laden defensive front seven. It is one of the best in the country, and Adams, his offensive line and offensive coordinator Chip Long’s game plan ran through that front as well as any of them could have possibly hoped.

Long’s dedication to the rushing game underscored a broader and more-tantalizing development to Notre Dame’s makeup as a team. The Irish are not fazed by a deficit or even a figurative punch in the mouth.

The last time Notre Dame faced any genuine adversity came in that 20-19 loss to Georgia. Beating the Wolfpack so handily will prevent anyone, including this space, from touting a newfound Irish ability to prevail in close games, but that — excuse this word choice — trait seems more possible than at any point in the last two calendar years. Responding to a challenge creates that kind of thinking, and North Carolina State offered Notre Dame a challenge early.

The first two Irish possessions gained a total of 10 yards. Chubb sacked junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush to stymie the first drive and altered each play of the next with penetration into the backfield, a tackle and then a quarterback pressure. To top it off, Chubb drew double the blocking on the subsequent punt. Notre Dame sophomore Daelin Hayes turned to help block Chubb, allowing North Carolina State defensive end James Smith-Williams to break through the line largely unchecked, smothering Tyler Newsome’s boot.

“One of the best defensive ends I’ve played in my five years here,” Irish fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe said. “We knew that coming in. He definitely showed that tonight.”

Notre Dame had failed on two possessions, found no holes in the Wolfpack defense and been manhandled by that unit’s best player, all leading to a 7-0 deficit.

The Irish didn’t much care.

“What was most impressive for me, coaching for as long as I have, when you get a punt block, it has a tendency to really affect your football team,” Kelly said. “Our guys never flinched. It was as if nothing ever occurred other than let’s get back out on the field and get back to work.”

After Notre Dame scored quickly in response, partly thanks to a 35-yard vertical run from Adams immediately followed by a 25-yard touchdown on a middle slant of sorts to Smythe, North Carolina State again seized control, authoring a seven-play, 71-yard touchdown drive of its own.

Again, the Irish didn’t much care.

“In past years, I think we’ve had to group up as an offense and talk about, guys, we need this one,” Smythe said. “… This team hasn’t flinched in scenarios like that. We didn’t have to talk about it at all, really.

“It almost is business as usual regardless of the situation, whether they just scored touchdown or we just scored three straight. We’ll take care of our business.”

It may yet be awhile before Notre Dame needs to respond to such adversity again, but it showed it has both the mental capacity and the physical talent to do so.

Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush has begun to show the confidence to rely on his arm at the expense of his legs, while the latter remain a valid weapon for opposing defense’s to fear. (AP Photo/Darron Cummings)

Part of that mental capacity showed itself in the physical realization of Wimbush’s passing progressions, literally and figuratively.
Wimbush still completed only 10 of 19 attempts for a total of 104 passing yards and two touchdowns. Even adding in two drawn pass interference penalties, his stat line of 12-for-21 for 134 yards would remain lacking. Yet, his viability as a dangerous passer took another step forward Saturday.

Wimbush rushed for only 28 yards on five carries, the fewest attempts of the season for the first-year starter, and the fewest yards aside from that loss to Georgia. This was a good sign for Notre Dame moving forward.

Wimbush did not abandon passing plays to pick up yardage in what we’ll call coverage runs. (When a defensive secondary prevents any receiver from breaking open long enough that a defensive lineman can notch a sack, it is known as a coverage sack. This is the flipside of such a scenario, when Wimbush breaks from the pocket entirely because of the secondary’s solid play.) Rather than slip upfield, he showed the needed patience to outwait the defensive backs. When he completed a 13-yard pass to sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson, the play delighted Kelly beyond the first down and furthered drive.

Stepherson was Wimbush’s fourth read on the play. He progressed past Smythe, past a go route, finally getting to Stepherson’s curl.

“First time he’s done it this year,” Kelly said. “I was pretty excited on the sideline. … He’s confident and wants to throw the football and can throw the football.”

That is not to say the scrambles will go the way of non-existent. They remain an inherent piece of Wimbush’s overall game.

“Brandon’s a different cat,” Smythe said. “If he doesn’t keep his eyes down the field, there’s a chance he’ll have a 50-yard touchdown run. There’s a delicate balance of telling him let’s keep our eyes downfield, let’s make sure there’s no one running wide open and telling him to follow his instincts and go score 50-yard touchdowns. He’s that kind of athlete.

“When he puts those two together, and he’s starting to do that now, he’s a true dual-threat, and that’s kind of scary.”

The more Wimbush becomes a feared passer, the more Notre Dame can open up defenses to be pillaged by Adams.

As for the purely physical, Te’von Coney’s impact continues.
The junior linebacker led the Irish in tackles for the second consecutive week, making nine tackles, including a two-yard loss on a crucial fourth down in the red zone. His efforts landed him the game ball.

“He’s just ascending, playing really, really good football,” Kelly said simply enough.

Senior linebacker and captain Greer Martini appeared healthy and productive, but Coney will demand only more playing time as long as he finds the ballcarrier with such frequency.

While Notre Dame is a team getting better, its future opponents do not appear to be.
Namely, No. 20 Stanford and No. 8 Miami (FL) both struggled immensely with vastly-inferior opponents this weekend, beating Oregon State 15-14 and North Carolina 24-19, respectively. Both the Cardinal and the Hurricanes won — and as is said, a win is a win is a [insert four-beat pause] win — and style points are largely overrated, but the difficulties pointed to deeper concerns.

The Irish proved wrong any remaining doubters, yours truly included, with the 35-14 toppling of the Wolfpack. Their schedule suddenly looks much more reasonable. They remain absurdly healthy.

Perhaps it is time to revise last week’s “Maybe, just maybe …” to Maybe, even probably …

Notre Dame ‘dominates’ Wolfpack 35-14

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NOTRE DAME, Ind. — The Irish 35-14 victory over No. 14 North Carolina State was maybe five minutes old, if that. Junior running back Josh Adams — he of the burgeoning Heisman campaign bearing his uniform number, “33 Trucking” — was asked to describe No. 9 Notre Dame’s mindset.

Adams offered one word to all inside the stadium.

“Dominating.”

It certainly fit Saturday, just as much as it did last week.

This might start to sound familiar, perhaps even repetitive, though still welcome to Irish fans.

For the second consecutive week, the Irish welcomed a top-15 opponent to Notre Dame Stadium. For the second consecutive week, they did not turn over the ball, they wore down the opposing defense, and they never allowed the offense to find a rhythm.

“We don’t talk about winning,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said afterward. “Winning is not even part of our vocabulary. We didn’t talk about winning any games this year.

“It’s about the mindset that we’ve created to dominate our opponent. Winning is not even part of the equation with this group.”

As much as a 35-point afternoon against one of the nation’s toughest defensive fronts deserves notice, the Notre Dame defense’s ability to shut down the Wolfpack attack possibly warrants even more. North Carolina State scored only one offensive touchdown, the other coming on a punt block recovered in the end zone. Adjusting for sacks, it rushed for 56 yards on 23 carries, a mere 2.4 yards per carry, and gained all of 263 total yards.

“It’s got to be one of our best performances in some time defensively,” Kelly said. “… A lot of respect for North Carolina State. That’s a good football team, but our team was up to the task today.”

TURNING POINT OF THE GAME
Coming out of halftime trailing 21-14, the Wolfpack received the opening kickoff and commenced marching down the field. A nine-yard Ryan Finley completion followed a 12-yard run by senior Jaylen Samuels. Two plays later the senior Finley connected with sophomore receiver Kelvin Harmon for 20 yards to cross into Irish territory. Six plays and 38 yards brought up a 3rd-and-10.

North Carolina State opted for strategy and a hard count. The hope was to draw Notre Dame offsides and take a shot downfield. Worst-case scenario, the Wolfpack would cut the third-and-long to third-and-five.

“We had a hard count called, with no play called,” North Carolina State coach Dave Doeren said. “Just something that a lot of spread teams do. If they jump, we snap it, roll out, take a shot.”

Senior center Garrett Bradbury thought the Irish jumped. Perhaps junior defensive tackle Jerry Tillery moved, but he stayed shy of the neutral zone, meaning he was not offsides. Bradbury thought otherwise, snapped the ball, and the Wolfpack line stayed in its pre-snap pose, trying to emphasize the presumed penalty. No flag was thrown.

“I can’t criticize the officials unless you want to pay the fine for me,” Doeren said. “I can’t. I’d love to tell you what I thought, but I’m not going to do that.”

Thinking he had a free play, Finley threw a 15-yard pass toward Harmon. At this point, that theoretical worst-case scenario should be revised to something much more drastic. Notre Dame sophomore cornerback Julian Love jumped the route and, thanks to a convoy from sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes and senior linebacker Nyles Morgan, proceeded 69 yards for a touchdown.

Love admitted he wondered if the Irish had jumped offsides, but he still played to the whistle, especially when the opposing quarterback has yet to throw an interception this season and the chance to snap that streak was suddenly presented.

“It was definitely on my mind, all of our minds,” Love said. “But we weren’t going to do anything extra. We were going to play our game and play how we’ve been training.”

Playing that game gave Notre Dame a 14-point lead when North Carolina State thought it had set up a free shot toward the end zone.

OVERLOOKED POINT OF THE GAME
Following Love’s touchdown, Samuels returned the ensuing kickoff to the Irish 42-yard line. A quick score would put the Wolfpack right back into the game with the majority of the second half remaining. Again, Finley led a methodical drive. This time, a near-turnover did it in.

On a 2nd-and-9 from the 14-yard line, a snap caught Finley off guard. Samuels picked it up and looped around a few defenders to avoid a 10- or 15-yard loss, but the play still cost eight yards. Finley then completed a bubble screen for 16, bringing up a fourth-and-one.

Down two touchdowns, Doeren opted to go for it. Irish freshman defensive tackle Myron Tagovaioloa-Amosa beat his block at the point of attack and junior linebacker Te’von Coney used that aid to bring down Samuels for a loss of one and a change of possession.

“I thought we would get the first and score a touchdown,” Doeren said. “That was a big play against us. It’s like a turnover.”

Notre Dame’s offense managed only nine yards in a three-and-out, but the Irish defense’s stop in its own red zone halted the last North Carolina State threat of the day.

PLAY(S) OF THE GAME
Most NFL receivers, not to mention ballerinas, would be envious of the body control displayed by fifth-year tight end Durham Smythe on an 11-yard reception in the second quarter. For being a speedster, sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson showed an equally-impressive toe-tap a play later on an 11-yard touchdown reception to give Notre Dame the 21-14 lead it would carry into halftime.

In finding Smythe, Irish junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush — who finished with 104 yards and two touchdowns on 10-of-19 passing — worked through his progressions, past Stepherson and past junior Equanimeous St. Brown. He stayed patient, not taking off to try to run for the needed six yards on third down. Finally, he spotted Smythe approaching the sideline.

“I was extremely confident when I caught the ball,” Smythe said. “There’s always that little seed of doubt when they bring the review, but luckily I looked up at the video board and was assured.”

Stepherson made it two review-necessary snags in two plays with his leaping touchdown grab, though that necessitated little such reading of coverage from Wimbush.

PLAYER OF THE GAME
His long touchdown runs receive the most hype — and are the impetus behind the “long haul” theme of the burgeoning “33 Trucking” campaign for the Heisman Trophy — but Adams does much more than that. He finished with 202 yards and a touchdown, a notable 77-yard touchdown.

On his other 26 carries, Adams wore down the Wolfpack defense. In mentioning him here, equal acknowledgement needs to be paid to his offensive line, which knows the demoralizing effect it can have on the opposition.

“We take a ton of pride in that,” senior left guard and captain Quenton Nelson said. “We take pride in the 10-yard runs and the five-yard runs. Sometimes we’re even on our guys and it doesn’t break for a 70-yard run, but we just keep pounding play after play and it eventually opens up and happens after wearing their defense out.”

STAT OF THE GAME
Notre Dame rushed for 318 yards. If accounting for sacks, that figure rises to 325 yards on 52 attempts.

The previous seven Wolfpack opponents averaged 30 rushing attempts per game, preferring not to repeatedly run into a wall. The most yards gained on the ground were the 133 by FCS-level Furman in a 49-16 loss.

“We approach each and every week preparing to dominate our next opponent, whoever that may be,” Adams said. “They’re going to bring the house, so we have to prepare likewise.

“Each and every guy on the team did a great job of bringing that mindset on Monday and carrying it throughout and, of course, to the game. … We just tried to play all four quarters and bring that mindset to dominate.”

Dominate they did, and it started on the ground.

QUOTE AND CHUCKLE OF THE EVENING
As Adams delivered his first mention of “dominating” on the field in a post-game interview with Notre Dame reporter Mike Monaco, a head popped up on the video board between Adams and Monaco. With a big smile on his face, there was Love, Saturday’s defensive star.

Fitting, considering Love apparently likes to watch Adams on the video board.

“He’s electrifying,” Love said. “It’s fun to watch him. I can’t look away from the when he’s on the field. [Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght] is yelling at me to pay attention to the board, and I’m just like, come on coach, that’s Josh.”

SCORING SUMMARY
First Quarter
10:05 — North Carolina State touchdown. Germaine Pratt punt block recovery. Carson Wise PAT good. North Carolina State 7, Notre Dame 0.
9:36 — Notre Dame touchdown. Durham Smythe 25-yard reception from Brandon Wimbush. Justin Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 7, North Carolina State 7. (2 plays, 60 yards, 0:29)

Second Quarter
14:48 — North Carolina State touchdown. Harmon 15-yard reception from Ryan Finley. Wise PAT good. North Carolina State 14, Notre Dame 7. (7 plays, 71 yards, 2:46)
9:37 — Notre Dame touchdown. Wimbush three-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 14, North Carolina State 14. (14 plays, 72 yards, 5:11)
5:30 — Notre Dame touchdown. Kevin Stepherson 11-yard reception from Wimbush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 21, North Carolina State 14. (8 plays, 60 yards, 2:18)

Third Quarter
12:05 — Notre Dame touchdown. Julian Love 69-yard interception return. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 28, North Carolina State 14.
4:11 — Notre Dame touchdown. Josh Adams 77-yard rush. Yoon PAT good. Notre Dame 35, North Carolina State 14. (2 plays, 77 yards, 0:16)

Notre Dame vs. North Carolina State: Who, what, when, where, weather, why and by how much?

Associated Press
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WHO? No. 9 Notre Dame (6-1) vs. No. 14 North Carolina State (6-1), two of about 16 remaining genuine College Football Playoff contenders. The Irish removed a name from that list last week.

WHAT? Continuing the stretch of “playoff” games on Notre Dame’s schedule, a win is absolutely necessary to keep that pipedream alive. This contest will likely come down to the strength-against-strength matchup of the Irish offensive line and running game against the Wolfpack’s defensive front seven led by senior end Bradley Chubb.

WHEN? 3:41 p.m. ET, though an Air Force F-16 flyover is expected beforehand, so if in attendance, don’t wait until the last minute to get inside.

WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Ind., and broadcast on NBC.

The game will also be available through the NBC Sports app or online at: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-north-carolina-state

Those abroad should take a look at NBC Sports Gold for the evening, and for anyone hoping to see the Notre Dame band’s halftime show: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/notre-dame-halftime-show

A postgame show will also be available online: http://stream.nbcsports.com/notre-dame/?pid=37523

WEATHER? There are rumors of snow, but it would not likely accumulate. The more pertinent fact is Saturday in South Bend will be in the low-40s and precipitation is possible. If this were mid-November in the home finale against Navy, such might be expected, but it is still October, and this qualifies as cold on a comfort spectrum.

WHY? Entering the season, few would have expected this contest to have national implications, but it very much does. Both North Carolina State and Notre Dame have viable means of reaching the College Football Playoff, provided they win out after losing in the season’s first and second weeks, respectively. A loss would not stop the Wolfpack from chasing the ACC title, especially not with No. 7 Clemson awaiting in a week.

BY HOW MUCH? The Irish are favored by a touchdown with a combined point/total over under of 57.5, though that latter figure began the week a bit higher. Those current odds would indicate an unusual final score of Notre Dame 32, North Carolina State 25.

This space has been quietly warning of the difficulties of this matchup since August. It became an underpinning theme this week. Some excerpts, in chronological order:

Aug. 18 — Let’s also add North Carolina State exceeding 7.5 wins to the previous list of over bets.
Aug. 22 — Make no mistake about it: When the Irish host North Carolina State on Oct. 28, they will not be entering a trap game. The Wolfpack will be anything but average this season.

Sept. 19 — It may be a bit bold to predict the Wolfpack to win outright [at Florida State], but a cover and an under would go hand-in-hand.
Sept. 26 — North Carolina State notched its biggest win of the year, a 27-21 victory at Florida State. The Wolfpack benefited from 11 Seminoles penalties and a turnover, but overall North Carolina State just played a solid game.

Oct. 3 — As four-point underdogs, expect North Carolina State to come out on the high side of a 34-31 projected final [against Louisville].
Oct. 10 — The Wolfpack has definitively arrived, topping Louisville 39-25 on Thursday to add a second victory over the ACC’s top teams.

Monday — This seems an applicable time to remind folks, North Carolina State had the week off.
Tuesday — For the second consecutive week, Notre Dame will face a viable passing threat. North Carolina State senior quarterback Ryan Finley, however, has had a consistent and mistake-free season, especially if compared to USC junior Sam Darnold. Finley has yet to throw an interception and has been held to fewer than 200 yards only once, when he threw for 198 at Pittsburgh two weeks ago.
Wednesday — Notre Dame will have a difficult time running against North Carolina State. The Wolfpack gives up a mere 3.04 yards per carry, No. 14 in the country. For context, Georgia ranks No. 7 in allowing 2.82 yards per rush and Michigan State comes in at No. 8 at 2.89 yards.
Thursday — North Carolina State may be, particularly in the eyes of this scribe, the toughest opponent remaining on Notre Dame’s schedule.
Friday — “They’re one of the top teams in the country,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “They can play with anybody.”

All this was whole-heartedly intended to lay the groundwork for this prediction. The Wolfpack is a season-opening moment’s focus away from being undefeated. If South Carolina had not returned the first kick of its season for a touchdown, North Carolina State would enter this weekend no more than three-point underdogs. At that point, picking the upset would be much trendier than it is. It shouldn’t be trendy. It should hardly be considered an upset.

North Carolina State 28, Notre Dame 24. (6-1 record on the season.)

THIS WEEK’S INSIDE THE IRSH READING:
Monday’s Leftovers: Notre Dame lands safety commitment and Adams lands in more Heisman talk
Notre Dame’s Opponents: BC & Mich. St. rise while Miami continues its streak of well-timed luck
Notre Dame doesn’t ‘have anything else to play for’ but a Playoff bid
Questions for the Week (Some, Notre Dame already answered)
And In That Corner … The No. 14 North Carolina State Wolfpack and a vaunted run defense
Things To Learn: Notre Dame will need the year’s best rushing performance vs. NC State
Notre Dame’s injury returns will aid needed punt return coverage
Friday at 4: If/when Notre Dame loses, shed the disappointment

INSIDE THE IRISH COVERAGE FROM THE USC GAME:
Notre Dame makes quick, easy work of USC
Things We Learned: Maybe, just maybe …
Sunday Notre Dame Notebook; Results create belief & an injury update

THIS WEEK’S OUTSIDE READING:
Jack Swarbrick reflects on his commitment to Brian Kelly over the offseason
Notre Dame left guard Quenton Nelson lands in the conversation of most NFL-ready, non-QB draft prospects
Irish linebacker Te’von Coney has returned from a public mistake to become a valuable on-field contributor
Defensive coordinator Mike Elko has made all the difference for Notre Dame this season. How?
Do bye weeks lead to wins? ($)
A Notre Dame alumnus pledged a $100 million gift to the University to be used in any way the school sees fit
Former Notre Dame basketball guard Pat Connaughton has shown he is ready for an increased role with the Portland Blazers this season
Only one starting quarterback has yet to throw an interception this season
DeShone Kizer’s late night out doesn’t sit well with Browns
The Athletic’s Heisman straw poll has a familiar name debut this week ($)