When N.C. State circled this Notre Dame game on the schedule, and sold a record number of season tickets and made the decision to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Carter-Finley Stadium, the best version of Notre Dame was expected to be here.
Instead, the Wolfpack (3-1) welcomes a Notre Dame (2-3) with three losses, including one at home to Duke, that has already fired its defensive coordinator.
Notre Dame might not be Knute Rockne-Ara Parseghian-Lou Holtz vintage Notre Dame but when N.C. State’s coaches look at the Irish, they see a team that won 10 games a year ago and came within a 2-point conversion of winning at Clemson.
They see a roster, on both offense and defense, filled with talented, highly-recruited players. They see a Notre Dame team that was ranked No. 10 in the preseason. They see the team Notre Dame was supposed to be, not what its record says it is.
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“They have really, really, really good personnel,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren stressed earlier this week.
Quarterback DeShone Kizer and left tackle Mike McGlinchey are popular first-round choices in NFL mock drafts on the internet. Sophomore receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, all 6-4 and 205 pounds of him, averages 21.6 yards per catch, and leading rusher Josh Adams is picking up 5.1 yards per carry.
I don’t buy into they’re not very good on defense at all.
N.C. State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz on Notre Dame
That’s just Notre Dame’s offense, which has held up its end of the preseason bargain. When N.C. State offensive coordinator Eli Drinkwitz looks at Notre Dame’s defense, he sees a group that has been put in some bad spots by turnovers – Notre Dame is minus-4 in turnover margin this season – not a group lacking talent.
“I don’t buy into they’re not very good on defense at all,” Drinkwitz said. “They’ve got really, really talented football players on that football team; highly, highly recruited players.
“So, all that ‘They’re not very good,’ to me that’s a complete joke. I think they’re really good and it’s going to be the toughest defense we’ve played all season.”
Seven of Notre Dame’s 11 starters on defense were rated as four-star recruits by Rivals coming out of high school (compared with two for N.C. State).
Notre Dame’s strength of schedule has also contributed to some of the statistical problems on defense. The Fighting Irish rank No. 106 in yards per game (461) and No. 100 in scoring (33.4 points per game).
And two of their losses were to Texas, on the road, and to Michigan State.
But the 38-35 home loss to Duke on Sept. 24 cost defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder his job. Duke redshirt freshman quarterback Daniel Jones threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns and completed 75 percent of his passes (24 of 32) in that game.
Jones, who was intercepted five times in last week’s loss to Virginia, threw only one interception against Notre Dame.
Syracuse threw for 363 yards against Notre Dame’s defense in a 50-33 loss last week. Orange quarterback Eric Dungey was 31 of 51 for 363 yards with a pair of touchdowns and no interceptions.
The success of Jones and Dungey should be a good sign for N.C. State’s Ryan Finley, who is coming off a career-best 300-yard outing in last week’s win over Wake Forest.
Through four games, N.C. State’s offense ranks No. 21 in the country in yards per game (505) and No. 28 in scoring (40 points per game).
Finley, who ranks fourth nationally in completion percentage (72.4), has thrown for 1,014 yards and has nine touchdowns and no interceptions.
“You’re starting to see a little bit more versatility each week as we grow more and more comfortable with everybody in the scheme,” Drinkwitz said. “We’re taking baby steps and there’s a lot of room for growth.”
N.C. State got more out of its receivers in the 33-16 win over the Demon Deacons. Sophomore Stephen Louis had his second 100-yard game of the season (four catches for 102 yards) and freshman Kelvin Harmon caught a pair of touchdowns.
“We had some guys grow up,” Finley said after the Wake Forest game. “That was our game plan: take shots and let our guys make plays.”
N.C. State will have to do more of the same on Saturday to add to Notre Dame’s misery.
Joe Giglio: 919-829-8938, @jwgiglio