3 Takeaways from Notre Dame's Week 13 Win
Another win, another step closer to a return to the College Football Playoff for Notre Dame.
On Friday, the No. 2 Fighting Irish improved to 9-0 with a 31-17 road victory over No. 19 North Carolina at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Notre Dame compiled 478 total yards of offense and scored 17 unanswered points to close out its eighth ACC win of the season.
The Tar Heels kept it close early, with the game tied at 17 at halftime, but the Fighting Irish took the lead on a 13-yard touchdown run by graduate wide receiver Ben Skowronek with a little more than seven minutes to go in the third quarter. Then, sophomore running back Kyren Williams sealed the win with a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:20 remaining in the fourth quarter.
Notre Dame last reached the College Football Playoff in the 2018 season. Here are three takeaways from the Fighting Irish's win Friday.
Defense Stepped Up with Dominant Showing
Notre Dame's defense was tasked with a big challenge in Week 13: Try to stop North Carolina's offense, which was averaging an ACC-best 563.4 total yards per game entering Friday. That's how the Tar Heels had gotten off to a 6-2 start and had scored at least 41 points in each of their previous four games entering their meeting with the Fighting Irish.
However, Notre Dame rose to the occasion and mostly shut down North Carolina. The Tar Heels had only 298 total yards of offense, and they were held scoreless for the final 31 minutes. After scoring touchdowns on each of their first two possessions, their final nine drives resulted in seven punts, a field goal and a turnover on downs.
"You can’t rush for 87 yards and have six sacks and beat anybody, much less a really, really good football team," North Carolina coach Mack Brown said, according to Aaron Beard of the Associated Press. "So give Notre Dame credit. They’re really, really good. When they stepped up in the second half on defense, they really stepped up."
It was the sixth time in nine games this season that Notre Dame held its opponent to 17 or fewer points. The Fighting Irish rank second in the ACC with 303.4 total yards allowed per game, behind only Clemson.
Williams Continued His Impressive Season
Kyren Williams not only notched his fifth multi-touchdown game of the season, but the sophomore running back also had another impressive showing against one of Notre Dame's toughest ACC opponents. It was only the second time he's had a three-touchdown game, with the other coming in the double-overtime victory over Clemson on Nov. 7.
Like that game against the Tigers, Williams eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Tar Heels. He had 23 carries for 124 yards and two touchdowns and four receptions for 20 yards and a score—his first receiving touchdown of the season.
Williams had two touchdowns in the first quarter, after which Notre Dame and North Carolina were tied at 14. His final score came in the closing minutes as the Fighting Irish closed out their victory.
It's been a breakout season for Williams, who had only four carries during his freshman year at Notre Dame. And his latest big game earned him plenty more attention, as Los Angeles Lakers star LeBron James tweeted praise for Williams following Friday's game. Expect more of that to come, as Williams is showing no signs of slowing down.
Notre Dame Likely Sealed ACC Title Game Appearance
Notre Dame still has two games remaining on its regular-season schedule, but it's in great position to secure a spot in the ACC Championship Game. The Fighting Irish are the only undefeated team in the conference, and that's unlikely to change following matchups against Syracuse and Wake Forest.
There's a strong chance that the ACC title game will be a rematch between Notre Dame and Clemson. And it's possible the Fighting Irish will have already ensured a spot in the College Football Playoff by then, as they could be 11-0 entering the game and have already beaten the Tigers.
This is Notre Dame's only season in the ACC. The Fighting Irish joined the conference because of the difficulty of scheduling games in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic. And it could end with them celebrating the conference title Dec. 19.
At the very least, Notre Dame should have an opportunity to play for it, as its final two regular-season opponents have a combined record of 5-12. So the Fighting Irish should carry over their momentum from their impressive win over North Carolina and keep it going into the ACC Championship Game.