Saturday, October 28, 2017 3:30 pm
Pregame: Notre Dame (6-1) vs. North Carolina State (6-1)
CHRIS GOFF | The Journal Gazette
SOUTH BEND — This game will tell us whether ninth-ranked Notre Dame knows how to handle prosperity.
After an emotional win last week over their biggest rival, the Irish face a well-rested opponent, No. 14 North Carolina State, coming off its bye week.
For six days, the Irish have been showered with praise, enjoying the glow of their 49-14 win over Southern California. Brian Kelly has tried to prevent his players from acting as if they have arrived.
"We know what we're going to get from North Carolina State," the coach said. "They've shown it. I think once you win six in a row, you've shown who you are as a team. How do you get your team ready for the next week after a big victory? We have to because we're playing a very good team in North Carolina State."
Kickoff is 3:41 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium. Here's what to watch for:
1. Wimbush must deliver: Brandon Wimbush's passer rating is the third-lowest among quarterbacks in the FBS who have attempted at least 150 passes over the season's first two months. While that is not the end-all, be-all gauge of effectiveness, especially for a quarterback who can run, it's clear Wimbush is enduring growing pains, and Notre Dame's offense has been limited because of that.
If the Irish can't put Wimbush in favorable third-down situations, North Carolina State will be able to test his recognition skills. That makes first down the battleground in this one. If first-down plays result in Notre Dame pounding the ball at the Wolfpack in the run game, Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long can focus on calling only the pass plays Wimbush does best.
2. A pair of three-headed monsters: The teams share a similar philosophy in the backfield, each running the ground game through three players. The Wolfpack split the carries between Nyheim Hines, Reggie Gallaspy II and Jaylen Samuels, the latter of whom also lines up at receiver and tight end. Samuels, who has a team-high 54 catches for 453 yards and 31 carries 191 yards, will be a tough cover for the Irish. He has 10 total touchdowns.
"He'll do everything," Notre Dame defender Drue Tranquill said. "He'll line up in the slot, (outside), line up in the backfield. He's everything we talk about in terms of being a gritty football player: makes plays happen for the offense and provides a dynamic aspect to them."
3. Love on Harmon: Kelvin Harmon leads the Wolfpack with 547 receiving yards, averaging 15.2 yards per catch, and most likely will be covered by cornerback Julian Love. However, the safeties better stay awake. There will be deep shots. Harmon has a hot quarterback, Ryan Finley, looking for his fourth 300-yard passing day this season.
"Big, strong receivers all across the board," Love said. "It's a huge challenge on 50-50 balls to go up and attack with them."
4. Special teams will be huge: Neither side has shown a tendency to play close games, but this one will be. Write it down. If so, field position and field-goal kicking will be vital. Notre Dame's Justin Yoon is 7-for-10 on field goals. One thing about Yoon: Only 34 percent of his kickoffs this season have resulted in touchbacks, ranking him 94th in the nation among qualified kickers. Yoon's short leg on kickoffs could create some opportunities for Hines, a dangerous returner.