When you think of Notre Dame football, you think of the Golden Dome and Touchdown Jesus and the catchy fight song and the only college football program with its own TV contract.
All of the Fighting Irish’s tradition – the 11 national titles, the seven Heisman Trophy winners, the movie with “Rudy” and the other movie with “The Gipper” – is “kinda cool,” to use N.C. State linebacker Airius Moore’s words.
Notre Dame (2-3), a member in the ACC in all sports but football, will make its first-ever visit to N.C. State (3-1) on Saturday.
“As a football fan, you understand the tradition they have,” Moore said. “But being a player now, I can’t worry about that, all we can worry about is the game.”
That’s exactly the message Wolfpack coach Dave Doeren wants to get through to his players.
“The history of that program has nothing to do with what’s going to happen on Saturday,” Doeren said.
The history of that program has nothing to do with what’s going to happen on Saturday.
N.C. State coach Dave Doeren on Notre Dame
So while a big deal will be made of Notre Dame’s first visit to Carter-Finley Stadium – and on the 50th anniversary of the first game ever played there – the challenge at hand means more than anything else on the periphery.
“For us to beat anybody – regardless of what they used to be or what they are now or what people say they are going to be or how many stars they have or what their preseason rankings – we have to control the things that we can control,” Doeren said. “That’s all we’re going to talk about with our players.”
N.C. State’s laser focus also means there’s no sense in trying to interpret what Duke’s 38-35 win at Notre Dame on Sept. 24 means to this game.
Duke lost at home to Wake Forest but won at Notre Dame. N.C. State beat Wake Forest this past Saturday. None of which means anything, Doeren said.
“I don’t think you can say, ‘Because this team beat that team then we can beat that team,’ ” Doeren said. “We have to earn the right to beat that team.”
Doeren spent a good amount of time on Monday talking about the challenge Notre Dame’s offense represents.
The Irish are coming off a 50-33 win over ACC foe Syracuse. Quarterback DeShone Kizer threw for 471 yards and three touchdowns and has Notre Dame ranked No. 15 in the country in passing offense at 327.8 yards per game.
Notre Dame’s offensive line, led by left tackle Mike McGlinchey, “might be the best we face all season,” Doeren said.
Receiver Equanimeous St. Brown already has six touchdown catches, and 541 receiving yards, in five games.
The offense is not the reason the Irish lost three of its first four games. The defense ranks No. 106 in yards per game (461) and No. 100 in scoring (33.4 points per game).
After the home loss to Duke, when freshman quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 290 yards for the Blue Devils, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly replaced defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder with Greg Hudson.
Hudson, a former assistant at East Carolina for Skip Holtz, provides one of the few tangential links between Notre Dame and N.C. State. Hudson worked at ECU for Skip Holtz, whose dad, Lou, was the head coach for both N.C. State (1972 to ’75) and the Fighting Irish (1986 to ’96).
Other than Holtz, and a matchup in the 2003 Gator Bowl – a 28-6 N.C. State win fueled by quarterback Philip Rivers – there’s not a lot of common ground between the two programs.
And all of that’s fine with N.C. State. There’s not really time for a history lesson this week, just a football game.
“When you get into all the hype and things like that, you kind of over-hype yourself and get out of your game,” Moore said.
“We’re just really trying to focus on the game and take care of business.”
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio