Instant Analysis: Defense keys Notre Dame’s late burst as Irish pull away

Saturday’s matchup between 10th-ranked Notre Dame and NC State shaped us as a game for the ages — QB ages, specifically.

It turned out to be dictated by the defenses and, early on, the weather. Namely, a one-hour, 45-minute lightning delay followed by heavy rain.

Still, 24-year-old Irish QB Sam Hartman had enough moments of efficiency and even some flashes of excellence — especially after the bad weather cleared out — to get the best of good friend and counterpart Brennan Armstrong, who turns 24 next month.

The Irish defense made him look at times like a rookie in a 45-24 road victory at Carter-Finley Stadium in Raleigh, N.C., not a fourth-year starter in his first home game for the Wolfpack since transferring from Virginia.

Fourth-quarter interceptions by Irish safeties Xavier Watts and DJ Brown, and a fourth-down stop, helped Notre Dame (3-0) turn a white-knuckler into a runaway as the Irish won their 29th successive regular-season game against ACC competition.

It was the first loss at home by NC State to a non-conference opponent since 2013.

Hartman, back in his native North Carolina, finished 15-of-24 for 286 yards and four TDs against a team that ranked 12th nationally in pass-efficiency defense in 2022 and 19th in total defense. He recorded his third pass-efficiency mark of over 200 (217.6) in as many games in a Notre Dame uniform. Hartman did get sacked four times, though, and coughed up the ball on one of those late in the third quarter at the Irish 17.

With the Irish lead only 24-17 at the time, ND’s defense rose to the occasion before NC State kicker Brayden Narveson missed a 34-yard field goal.

It was the fourth-ever meeting between the two schools with both that were played in Raleigh affected by the weather.

The victory keeps Notre Dame in the top 10 and on a trajectory for the Sept. 23 home matchup with Ohio State to turn out to be the showdown it was expected to be heading into the season. Hartman continues on the periphery of the Heisman Trophy conversation and the Irish defense has emerged as the surprise storyline of the season.

Strong cornerback play matters, and Notre Dame has it in abundance. Sophomore Ben Morrison pulled in his first interception of the season. The safeties have elevated their play to complement the corners. This allows second-year defensive coordinator Al Golden to get creative with his pressures. While those pressure only produced one sack on Saturday, they forced Armstrong to concoct a pass-efficiency mark of less than 100 (94.6).

When will Notre Dame’s first-time starters at offensive guard, juniors Pat Coogan and Rocco Spindler, start to distance themselves from early-season growing pains?

Notre Dame returns home to face Central Michigan for the first time in program history. The game was scheduled with the input of former Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, thinking he’d still be at ND to face the team he coached from 2004-06. Kickoff is 2:30 p.m. This is the one home game this season not on NBC, but only streaming on Peacock.

The Chippewas edged FCS school New Hampshire on Saturday, 45-42.

NOTRE DAME 45, NC STATE 24 Box Score

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