N.C. State fell to No. 10 Notre Dame, 45-24, at Carter-Finley Stadium in its 2023 home opener at Carter-Finley Stadium on Saturday.
The Wolfpack (1-1) wanted to show improvement from its win at UConn. It did in some areas, notably some positive strides on defense. It didn’t make enough progress, though, and the Irish (3-0) showed that its 98-6 win differential over Tennessee State and Navy weren’t flukes.
There were times when Notre Dame struggled against the Pack defense, but everyone clearly saw who was the better team on Saturday.
Wolfpack defense vs. the world, most of the time
N.C. State’s defense took steps forward this week, but it also showed ongoing struggles.
It brought more energy and aggression to the field, notably on early rushing attempts, which it lacked at times against UConn in Week 1.
That energy allowed the Pack to force punts on Notre Dame’s first two drives. The third drive showed some of the remaining inconsistency in coverage. N.C. State gave up 50 yards on it, but the Irish were limited to a 54-yard field goal after the Pack’s coverage led to an offensive penalty.
The defense forced and recovered a fumble late in the third quarter, putting the offense deep in Notre Dame territory. It added four sacks, as well.
Unfortunately, State’s performance featured several big breakdowns. The first explosive play came immediately after the weather delay, when Notre Dame’s Audric Estime ran for an 80-yard touchdown. This is the second week in a row that the team has given up a one-play score of at least 70 yards.
In the second quarter alone, Notre Dame recorded two passing plays of 45 yards or more. Linebacker Payton Wilson, however, received credit for the tackles to end those potential scoring plays.
Overall, it was a bizarre afternoon for the Pack, which showed a high ceiling but also revealed a low floor.
It may be a long fall for the offense
With all the hype around quarterback Brennan Armstrong and what he’d done under offensive coordinator Robert Anae when they were at Virginia in 2021, a lot of people expected things to be better than they were on Saturday.
At times, it felt downright painful. Armstrong threw three interceptions in the contest, two came on consecutive drives. His completion rate was a whopping 47%, though it dropped as low as 39% in the fourth. He completed just 22-of-47 passes against Notre Dame.
Only one receiver was credited with a drop, but multiple passes probably could’ve been ruled as drops depending on the official scorer. Regardless, if someone views them as drops or pass breakups, they weren’t completed passes.
The Wolfpack finished with 344 total yards and 20 first downs, compared to Notre Dame’s 456 yards and 16 first downs.
And, when it had some of the easy opportunities created by the defense, Armstrong and Co. didn’t make use of the opportunities it had.
Getting bailed out by penalties
Most of N.C. State’s drives ended with a punt or a turnover. Those that didn’t? Well, the home team should probably send Notre Dame a thank you card for 10 of its points, which contributed four first downs.
Wide receiver Bradley Rozner grabbed a 9-yard reception at 1:16 in the second quarter, scoring the Pack’s first touchdown of the game. That 62-yard drive included three penalties – all for first downs – from the visitors.
Then, N.C. State added a 49-yard field goal from kicker Brayden Narveson in the third. That drive also included a first down penalty by the Irish.
The Pack’s final touchdown drive also included a Notre Dame penalty, but it was declined and State can take full credit for that one.
Without those freebies – and based on how State’s offense played – the score differential would’ve been a lot wider.
This story was originally published September 9, 2023, 11:44 AM.