Notre Dame and N.C. State each enter Saturday’s game boasting 6-1 records separated by just five spots in the Top 25 polls.
Still, Dave Doeren isn’t about to overhype the importance of the game in South Bend for his No. 14/15 Wolfpack, even if it is being played at historic Notre Dame Stadium in plain view of Touchdown Jesus.
“It’s still a football field with two locker rooms, and we’re going to go out there and play and play as hard as we can and not let something that doesn’t have anything to do with winning or losing be a part of the game,” said Doeren.
But yeah, anytime you have a chance to play a ranked Notre Dame team – No. 9/10 — on national television, it’s an opportunity for a coach like Doeren take his program one more step forward.
But by no means is it a must-win game for the Wolfpack. The simple fact that it’s not a conference contest means the importance of winning or losing is significantly diminished.
Still, it’s a special moment for Doeren as a head coach. Growing up in the Midwest and raised Catholic, he was exposed to the Fighting Irish mystique early in life.
“I’ve been up there several times to watch them play when I was young,” said Doeren. “I know what that place is like and excited to have an opportunity not just to play there but to compete and do it with a great football team that we have against their team that’s playing as good as they can play.
“I think it’s an outstanding opportunity for our program and excited to be a part of it.”
Brian Kelly’s Irish are coming off a surprising easy 49-14 romp against rival Southern California.
N.C. State, which suffered its only loss to a USC (South Carolina), has had an extra week to prepare for the meeting with the Irish. The break came at a good time after the Wolfpack had reeled off six consecutive wins.
“We were beat up, and we’ve been dealing with nicks and bumps and flus and different things like that for the last month,” said Doeren. “I think for us, it came at a really good time for our guys to recover.
“But you know, there’s always — from a football program standpoint, you love to win a big game, and any time you do that, you’ve got a lot of positive momentum.”
Notre Dame’s players, riding big-win momentum, are a confident bunch after winning six games by at least 20 points. The Irish’s only loss came in Week 2 by one point to unbeaten and third-ranked Georgia.
This will be the third of four ACC games for Kelly’s team, which plays a partial league schedule as part of its agreement to compete for conference championships in every other sport.
Notre Dame quarterback Brandon Wimbush has passed for 903 yards and eight touchdowns with two interceptions. Running back Josh Adams is coming off a 191-yard effort against the Trojans and has topped 900 yards for the second consecutive season.
The Wolfpack are led by quarterback Ryan Finley, who has passed for nearly 2,000 yards and has attempted 331 passes without an interception this season. He has thrown for 11 touchdowns.
“He knows exactly what his offensive coordinator wants from him,” Kelly said of Finley. “Just does a really good job of taking care of the football. Very smart.
“They do a great job of holding onto the football, sustaining drives, and scoring. I think they average 3.2 points per possession, which is really, really good. So they’ve got a number of weapons on offense.”
Since losing 35-28 to the Gamecocks in the season opener, the Wolfpack haven’t allowed more than 25 points.
“Defensively, you know, I think as good of a group that we’re going to see. Comparable to Georgia. Physically very imposing,” said Kelly. “Again, this is a defense that’s very stingy against the run.”
IN THE SPOTLIGHT
All times Central
Florida State at Boston College, Friday 7 p.m. CT, ESPN
Miami at North Carolina, Saturday 11 a.m. CT, ESPN2
Louisville at Wake Forest, Saturday 11:20 a.m. CT, ACC Network
Virginia at Pittsburgh, Saturday 11:30 p.m. CT, ACC Network
N.C. State at Notre Dame, Saturday 2:30 p.m. CT, NBC
Duke at Virginia Tech, Saturday 6:20 p.m. CT, ACC Network
Georgia Tech at Clemson, Saturday 7 p.m. CT, ABC, ESPN2
- Miami (6-0, 4-0):Last Week – W, Syracuse, 27-19. The Impact – Hurricanes keep finding ways to win and now have won last 11 games. They are also 4-0 in ACC for first time since joining league in 2003. Malik Rosier, who is 7-0 as a starter, passed for 344 yards.
- Clemson (6-1, 4-1):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Tigers used bye week to get QB Kelly Bryant healthy again after he sprained an ankle and suffered a concussion in successive games. Now they need to prove they are over loss to Syracuse.
- Virginia Tech (5-1, 1-1): Last Week – W, North Carolina, 59-7. The Impact – Hokies scored on fumble, interception and punt returns in cruising to a 35-0 halftime lead over Tar Heels. They led 52-0 before UNC finally scored.
- N.C. State (6-1, 4-0):Last Week – Idle. The Impact – Now ranked No. 14, Wolfpack get shot a beating third Top 25 team when they travel to No. 9 Notre Dame. QB Ryan Finley hasn’t been intercepted in last 313 pass attempts, which leads the nation.
- Georgia Tech (4-2, 3-1):Last Week – W, Wake Forest, 48-24. The Impact – Yellow Jackets bounced back from loss at Miami and can keep pressure on Hurricanes in Coastal Division if they can pull off upset at Clemson. A loss, however, would dig the hole too deep.
- Syracuse (4-4, 2-2):Last Week – L, at Miami, 27-19. The Impact –. Orange burned for 20 or more yards on seven passes, but hung tough and trailed just 20-19 with 5:23 left. Open date comes at a good time.
- Louisville (5-3, 2-3):Last Week – W, at Florida State, 31-28. The Impact – Late rumble recovery gave Lamar Jackson one more chance to set up a game-winning field goal vs. FSU and he didn’t squander chance. But it’s probably too late for him to defend Heisman even if he does lead nation in total offense with 418.3 yards per game.
- Florida State (2-4, 2-3):Last Week – L, Louisville, 31-28. The Impact – With Seminoles still without home win, Jimbo Fisher lost his cool with a fan. Then learned he has lost starting running back Jacques Patrick for rest of season. A bad week could get much worse with Friday trip to BC.
- Wake Forest (4-3, 1-3):Last Week – L, at Georgia Tech, 38-24. The Impact – Demon Deacons have lost last three league games and now face Louisville, Notre Dame, Syracuse and N.C. State over next four weeks. Hey, there’s always next year.
- Boston College (4-4, 2-3): Last Week – W, at Virginia, 41-10. The Impact –BC evened its record while scoring more than 40 points on road for second straight week. Now the Eagles need to do something about their 1-3 home record. They are 3-1 on the road.
- Virginia (5-2, 2-1):Last Week – L, Boston College, 41-10. The Impact – Bronco Mendenhall’s team took a big step back, getting hammered at home by BC to end a four-game winning streak. They trailed 17-0 after a quarter.
- Duke (4-4, 1-4):Last Week – L, Pittsburgh, 24-17. The Impact – This isn’t horseshoes, so being close doesn’t help Blue Devils get back on track. Still, they’ve lost last three games by a touchdown.
- Pittsburgh (3-5, 1-3): Last Week – W, at Duke, 24-17. The Impact – Darrin Hall scored on runs of 92 and 78 yards, finished with 254 yards and three touchdowns. Pitt hadn’t rushed for more than 208 yards as a team.
- North Carolina (1-7, 0-5):Last Week – L, at Virginia Tech, 59-7. The Impact – Have Tar Heels quit? Sure looks like it. They have been outscored 186-80 in five league losses and if you add in loss to part-time member Irish, the difference is 219-90. Oh yeah, they host Miami on Saturday.
at BOSTON COLLEGE 35, Florida State 3 (Friday)
MIAMI at North Carolina
LOUISVILLE at Wake Forest
VIRGINIA at Pittsburgh
N.C. State at NOTRE DAME
Duke at VIRGINIA TECH
Georgia Tech at CLEMSON
Last Week: 3-3