By Stiofán Mac Fhilib

Notre Dame notched another victory against a weaker opposition in Week 1. They now face NC State and our resident Fighting Irish expert Stiofán Mac Fhilib gives you his weekly lowdown.

Looking back at last week

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History was made at college football’s most storied program as HBCU, Tennessee State, became Notre Dame’s first-ever FCS opponent. In a match-up chosen in part to ease the Irish back into their schedule on US soil, the lessons of the Week 2 Purdue game back in 2012 were well and truly learned. On this occasion, there was no fourth-quarter drama. Instead, Sam Hartman was able to don a headset after half-time and let backup QB, Steve Angeli, try to extend ND’s 35-3 lead. 

Angeli can thank a pair of Notre Dame’s impressive stable of running backs for each taking a short pass and turning it into a TD of at least 40 yards, either side of a Clarence Lewis pick-six.  That capped a 56-3 victory that was a little closer in the first quarter thanks to a fumble on a kickoff return that was the result of one of the most egregious missed targeting calls you’ll ever see. 

Ironically, that incident sparked both the home crowd and team, as Sam Hartman extended the remarkable start to his Irish career: 12 drives, 11 TDs and a missed FG. His pièce de résistance was an exceptional somersault into the endzone on a QB keep that presumably had Marcus Freeman channelling his inner Lou Brown on the sideline: “Nice somersault, Hartman; don’t ever feckin’ do it again!” 

Overall, the game proceeded as well as Notre Dame hoped.  QB2 and QB3 both took snaps and the third string, including some walk-ons, got some fourth-quarter playing time. After utilising five runners and throwing to nine receivers in Dublin a week earlier, Freeman was able to get the ball to seven RBs, and 13 different players caught a pass. All in all, it was a satisfactory day’s work while cognisant of bigger challenges ahead. And soon. 

The week ahead

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@ NC State Wolfpack (Carter Finlay Stadium); 12.00pm EDT; 5.00pm IST/BST

Notre Dame, now up to #10 in the AP poll, takes on their first Power 5 opponent of the season as they travel to Raleigh, NC, for the initial ACC match-up of 2023 against the Wolfpack. The Irish are 32-1 in regular season games against ACC opposition since 2017 and if they are to be genuine playoff contenders in 2023 then this is a tricky road trip they will need to negotiate decisively. 

The home side had a not entirely convincing 24-14 win at UConn to open their season. Quarterback, Brennan Armstrong, having a relatively quiet afternoon with his arm. However, he did have almost 100 yards with his legs as the Wolfpack ran nearly 50 times for over 200 yards. 

One of the keys to Notre Dame success this year is improvement in its ability to stop the run. Mobile QBs, in particular, have been a problem for Irish defenses in recent years.  Even against Tennessee State, ND lost contain on the QB several times and were lucky not to be punished. They are unlikely to enjoy that luxury with Armstrong.  

Notre Dame fans’ eyes widened when they read that UConn had been able to run on State for over 150 yards at 6.2 yards per carry. With the Irish stable of backs all looking dangerous, that looks hopeful. However, a deeper dive reveals that if you remove the 71-yard TD run, the other 25 UConn rushes averaged 3.6 ypc. Still, expect ND and OC, Gerad Parker, to start off seeing how the Wolfpack DL fares against Audric Estimé and his willing helpers. 

One thing Irish fans have yet to see is Hartman relying on the deep ball with some regularity. In the first two weeks, he had no need to. Against stronger opposition, I expect he will.

Game Prediction

Notre Dame 34-20 NC State

The Wolfpack are 18-2 at home in the last three seasons and no strangers to lifting their game for higher ranked opponents. I don’t expect Hartman to continue his near perfect efficiency but after a closer first half than ND has had so far in 2023, I anticipate a less stressful final quarter as the Irish are ultimately able to out-talent the home team. 

Where to watch:

No coverage in Ireland and Britain

ABC (in the USA)

Playoff Picture

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Florida State were the big winners last week with a hugely impressive win over LSU. Utah got revenge over an SEC opponent, though Florida do not look like a side that will boost the Utes’ resumé as much as they might have hoped. And I fear I undersold the Duke Blue Devils last week when I suggested they “could prove more than a little tricky” for Clemson.  A changing of the guard in the ACC? 

Week 2 does not have a huge amount of key match ups but all eyes will be on Tuscaloosa where Texas will ‘be back’ if they can upset the Crimson Tide.  After out-of-conference defeats for LSU, Florida, and South Carolina in week 1, the beleaguered SEC could do with the boost of an Alabama win!  And on that SEC note, look out for Ole Miss at Tulane.  If the Green Wave hopes to repeat their appearance in a New Year Six bowl this Christmas, winning this fixture would go a long way with the CFP committee.