Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct 08, 2022

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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26 OCT. 8, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 1. Drew Pyne's Steadiness On paper, the quarterback advantage felt like it skewed toward North Carolina. Tar Heels starter Drake Maye, a former top-50 prospect, had the look of a dynamic playmaker in his first three games. Irish junior Drew Pyne, meanwhile, stepped into the job due to injury and dinked and dunked his way through his first start Sept. 17. Then Pyne outplayed Maye until Notre Dame leaned further into its run game after taking a 38-14 lead. He piloted Notre Dame's offense to four straight scoring drives to end the first half. The first three of those were touchdown marches of at least 66 yards. The game plan for Pyne hardly resembled the prior weeks. Notre Dame didn't turn into a vertical shot team, but it opened the intermediate area of the field and trusted Pyne to take care of the ball. He responded with a turnover-free game. He didn't hit head-turning throws, but limited the misses and connected on nearly all the passes a quarterback recruited to Notre Dame should hit. Pyne connected on 24 of 34 throws for 289 yards with 2 touchdowns. Excluding sacks, he rushed 5 times for 27 yards. 2. Tommy Rees Delivers Pyne's productive day doesn't happen without a creative game plan from offensive coordinator Tommy Rees that kept North Carolina guessing all game. Rees called a steady dose of play-action passes. He also took advantage of the heavy atten- tion the Tar Heels paid to junior tight end Michael Mayer (on plays where he wasn't left wide open, that is). Notre Dame found ways to create advantageous matchups for Mayer, whether that was finding a one-on-one he could win (which is most of them) or using play action to clear space for him. Rees even called a jet sweep for him that gained 7 yards. He finished with 7 catches for 88 yards and a touchdown on 9 targets. On plays where Mayer wasn't open, Notre Dame used the attention given to him to its advantage. Sophomore running back Logan Diggs was uncov- ered on his 29-yard touchdown catch because two defenders went with Mayer, who ran a crossing route starting from the same side where Diggs eventually caught the pass. The attention on Mayer helped in the run game, too. Three defenders went with him on Diggs' 7-yard gain on third-and-5, continuing a second- quarter drive that ended with a field goal. Notre Dame's consistent ground threat lent it- self to play action success. Pyne's second-quarter 30-yard touchdown to sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles was on a play-action throw that froze the safety responsible for helping on him. A 19-yard pass to Mayer one possession later was a play action fake toss, as was a 20-yarder to him in the third quarter. 3. Powerful Run Game This game had to feel cathartic for Notre Dame's offensive line. Two games after Marshall's defen- sive front handled them, the Irish's front five paved the way for a dominant rushing day against an overmatched North Carolina defense. Excluding sacks and kneel-downs, Notre Dame ran for 298 yards on 48 carries (6.2 yards per rush). Notre Dame running backs combined for 264 yards on 42 carries. The Irish had 10 runs of 10 or more yards, including a 29-yard burst from sopho- more running back Audric Estime. They had 9 such runs in the first three games combined, which was tied for 113th nationally. The Irish put the game away with a pair of 75- yard drives in the fourth quarter, featuring a com- bined 22 plays, 21 of which were runs. An Estime fumble inches in front of the goal line removed some of the shine, but it came long after the Irish removed all doubt. 4. Making Drake Maye One Dimensional Maye's legs were as much of a threat as his arm in North Carolina's first three games. He came in with 146 yards rushing on 5.6 yards per carry — ac- cumulated on designed runs and scrambles. Sure enough, Maye improvised for 6 yards, took a quarterback draw 15 yards and broke a third- and-9 scramble for 12 yards on North Carolina's opening drive. From there, though, Notre Dame wrapped him up and contained him in the pocket. Rush lane integrity was a theme all week after California quarterback Jack Plummer gashed Notre Dame in with scrambles Sept. 17. After that first drive, Notre Dame sacked Maye 3 times and held him to 7 other rush attempts for 23 yards the rest of the game. A third-and-12 scramble attempt netted 2 yards. Senior linebacker Jack Kiser dropped him short of the marker on a third-and-6 run. 5. Better Linebacker Play The simmering concern that Notre Dame's linebackers were a liability felt like an overreac- tion, but they were playing below their standard and creating sparse havoc. That had to change. Through three games, the linebackers had a com- bined 3.5 tackles for loss, 0.5 sacks and no passes broken up. Only once in that span did a linebacker finish a game with either the most or second-most tackles on the team. This game was a step forward that the Irish hope is a regularity. The linebackers combined for 19 tackles and 2 tackles for loss. Kiser (9) and senior Marist Liufau (6) were the two leading tacklers. Senior JD Bertrand wasn't credited with a forced fumble on Notre Dame's first turnover, but he came unblocked on a blitz that led May to lose the ball. The stain on the linebackers' day was Bertrand's second targeting penalty in as many games. FIVE THOUGHTS BY PATRICK ENGEL Sophomore running back Audric Estime (above), junior Chris Tyree and sophomore Logan Diggs com- bined for 264 yards rushing on 42 carries (6.3 yards per attempt). PHOTO BY KAYDEE GAWLIK

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