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  • Writer's pictureBlake Holzgrafe

SEPTEMBER 9, 2023:Notre Dame Fighting Irish v. North Carolina State Wolfpack at Carter-Finley

Matthew 2016



Carter-Finley Stadium

Notre Dame Fighting Irish


North Carolina State Wolfpack

Until just a day or so ago, the thought of Notre Dame meeting North Carolina State on a bad weather football field was not a matter of concern. Unlike 2016 when Hurricane Matthew was “a huffin’ and a puffin’ hard enough to blow your house down”, the only 2023 weather concern appeared to be high temperatures. Well, then along came along came Lee, Hurricane Lee that is, developing as a Category 5 Storm not unlike Matthew. Fortunately, Lee is likely too far out to sea to cause any Matthew-like issues such as these:

Then Irish Head Coach Brian Kelly characterized the situation as “atrocious”.

As an observer of that game, yours truly offers a similar characterization of the Irish play calling in that game respecting the unbelievably excessive number of pass plays called by the Irish under those very windy conditions (“alright, alright, alright”, Hurricane Matthew-force winds!!) as “atrocious at worst and puzzling at best”.

In that game, the Irish had 26 freakin’ pass plays against only 36 running plays, while the Wolfpack threw only 14 times while running the rock 46 times. 2016 was the second and final year for Mike Sanford, Jr. as the Irish offensive coordinator (although it is rather likely that Brian Kelly was instrumental in calling the plays). Kelly had done a swell job compiling his coaching staff for 2016 as it was less than midway through the season when the Brian VanGorder defensive coordinator era ended. After the sterling performance by Kelly’s 2023 LSU Tigers who labored against the Florida State Seminoles on Labor Day, one might begin to speculate who will be Kelly’s 2023 coaching “fall guys”.

Before getting back to the Irish/Wolfpack game, it is interesting to note that Mike Sanford, Jr. served as interim Head Coach for the 2022 Colorado Buffaloes, leading them to a 0-6 won loss record. Interestingly, that losing streak started following the only 2022 win by the Buffaloes during their 1-11 season.

Are the 2023 Buffaloes under Head Coach “Neon Deion” Sanders for real? Time will tell, of course, but 51 Transfer Portal additions just might make a difference, plus if you noted anything from the Buffaloes opening win over TCU, you probably noted rather superb performances from several Bison players including true Freshman RB Dylan Edwards. At 5’8’” and 155 lbs, this little guy was named the Freshman of the Week for his performance, Dylan dazzled with 135 receiving yards and 24 rushing yards. Dylan, by the way, was a one-time Irish verbal commitment, de-committing after visiting Colorado following Sanders hiring as the new Head Coach.

One can only wonder how Dylan would have been in the Irish RB Room. My guess the Irish would not have sought Penn State Transfer Portal 5’11”, 200 lbs. RB Devyn Ford (#22) had Dylan not de-committed. Thus, it might have been Dylan returning the Tennessee State kickoff when Ford got “cold-cocked”, and he likely would have either avoided the big hit with his speed or at least would have had his head at least three inches lower sufficient to have avoided the non-targeting take out.

Oops, I diverged from the game at hand, so now back to the Irish/Wolfpack tilt.

The Irish defeat during Hurricane Matthew left the 2016 Irish standing at 2-4 with the 2016 Wolfpack improving to 4-1, and then undefeated against the Irish. The all-time North Carolina State/Notre Dame gridiron clashes now stand 2 wins for the Wolfpack and 1 win for the Irish.

With Lee still out to sea, Matthew says “alright, alright, alright”. Not Hurricane Matthew, but the Irish’s Matt a/k/a/ “Matthew” Salerno (#29), who despite having to miss several weeks due to injury suffered against Tennessee State, assures us that he will be “alright, alright, alright”.

It is not yet certain where Lee will hit on landfall, but it says here when it does, the game will be long over and everything will, indeed, be “alright, alright, alright”.

North Carolina State opened the 2023 season with a road win over that longtime powerhouse, the Connecticut Huskies. 11-time National Champion and the holder of the longest win streak in all of college basketball history at 111 games . . . . . Huh, I think the research department got the wrong Huskies Team!! That history belongs to the Huskies Women’s basketball team coached by Geno Auriemma. Sorry.

But since I have again diverged, was it not satisfying to see Arike Ogunbowale’s last second basket in the 2018 NCAA semi-final game leading the Muffet McGraw-led Lady Irish over the Huskies? And for you “Trivia” savants, try this one. What is Geno’s actual given name? Want a hint?

Yes, indeed, it is Luigi!

The Huskies football team is coached by former NFL Head Coach Jim Mora who also served as Head Coach for UCLA for several seasons. His 2022 Huskies squad played in the 2022 Myrtle Beach Bowl against a foe that the Irish also played in 2022, and unfortunately, with the same result. Both lost to the Marshall Thundering Herd.

So, does that opening win by the Wolfpack mean they should be favored over the Irish rather than being an 8.5point underdog? Or does the fact that they are 18-2 at home over the past three seasons suggest the Irish will lose? Or does the fact that Head Coach Dave Doeren has won 8 or more games the past four seasons give the edge to the Wolfpack? How about the #1 ranked scoring defense, the #3 overall defense, the #3 in yards per carry defense, and the #2 in passing yards per attempt defense for 2022 in the ACC as a point of emphasis for the Wolfpack? The 2022 North Carolina State team stood at #24 in the nation in turnover margin with a plus 6! And three of the turnovers were interceptions against the Wake Forest Demon Deacons whose QB was none other than Sam Hartman! Ouch! And two of the interceptors return in safety Jakeem Harris (#6) and CB Aydan White (##3). Ouch again!

If all of that historical data is not enough to scare the “heebee-jeebies” out of any Irish fan, the final hurdle the Irish will face in Carter-Finley Stadium is the debut of a new video board and sound system!

While it cannot yet be known what information will be displayed, one can safely assume that there are two facets that will differ from the video board in Notre Dame Stadium. First, unlike in Notre Dame Stadium, do expect there to be commercial ads on the Wolfpack video board. Second, do not expect there to be a video announcing Mass Times for Sunday on the campus.

The 2022 North Carolina offense was in a word now used thrice in this piece, “atrocious” and far from being “alright, alright, alright”. The team ranked #99 in scoring at 21.8 points per game.

To improve the offense the Wolfpack acquired the #3 rated QB in the 2022-2023 Transfer Portal in Brennan Armstrong (#5). He is a transfer from Virginia and is being reunited with Robert Anna, his 2021 offensive coordinator at Virginia when Armstrong threw for 4,449 yards and 31 TDs with only 10 INTs, before Anna’s one-year stint at Syracuse.

At 6’ 2” and 212 lbs, Brennan kinda reminds one of Jack Armstrong, right? Except he is a lefty.

Irish fans know, of course, that Sam Hartman was the #1 rated QB in the 2022-2023 Transfer Portal. And for those who might not know, the #2 rated QB in the 2022-2023 Transfer Portal was Devin Leary who transferred to Kentucky. So why mention the QB transfer to Kentucky? It was from the Wolfpack!!

Another North Carolina State 2022-2023 Transfer Portal acquisition was WR Bradley Rozner (#80), who came over from Rice, a crispie player with 101 career receptions for over 1,670 yards and 15 TDs. Other targets for Armstrong are expected to be WRs KC Concepcion (#10) who is a true Freshman, Porter Rooks (#4), and Julian Gray (#8).

Here is an interesting tidbit to conjur about Wolfpack TE Trent Pennix (#6). Had he been part of the Washington Huskies football team, he would have been a target of Heisman hopeful QB Michael Penix, Jr. Might there have been a few Penix to Pennix pass plays? And, might the plethora of the similar names have potentially created a few, unintentional off-color reports, especially with the keyboard keys for “x” and “s” being adjacent?

During the first two Irish telecasts this season as well as seeing other publications involving Irish football, one can appreciate the full head of hair and full facial hair enjoyed by Sam Hartman. Can you pick him out from among these bewhiskered brutes?

The Irish Defense poised to stop Armstrong’s running and passing skills antics enjoys depth of talent that has not existed on the Irish roster for years and is one of the elements needed for the Irish not only to reach the CFB Playoffs but also to win a game or two. Among the others, of course, are a top QB and speed and skill at the WR positions. Each of these elements is building. But a strong and deep defense is also needed and let me suggest one emerging defensive player who will be an Irish stalwart for the for the next three years. Josh Burnham (#40) was recruited as a linebacker, but with some added weight and strength he is now a Vyper.

Another emerging Irish defensive stalwart who actually emerged during the 2022 season is NT Howard Cross (#56).

Those of you who followed my “stuff” during the 2022 Irish season will recall my affinity to Blake Grupe (#99), all 5’6” and 157 lbs. of him.

He exhausted his college eligibility at the end of the 2022 season. Thus, he neither returned to the Irish for another season nor entered the 2022-2023 Transfer Portal. But, he did advance to the NFL where, as an undrafted free agent, he is now the New Orleans place kicker and wears uniform (#19)!

Being rather diminutive and thus not fitting the stereotype of an NFL player, he was stopped by Caeser Stadium security at the Saints first preseason game before the game while walking onto the field. Then, after kicking a game winning field goal, he was again stopped by security while trying to walk out the players exit.

With a face like this and the size he is, how could anyone not recognize him as an NFL player?

Well perhaps just about everyone.

If you were an Irish participant in the 2003 Gator Bowl you would have one of these rings with 16 diamonds as a memento:

With all of that “stuff” being said, it says here the Irish will prevail to the tune of

Notre Dame 34

Wolfpack 10


Here are the answers to your Irish Trivia Questions from last week.

1. What is the largest crowd the Irish have played in front of? There is a supposedly official number and an estimated number. Can you identify either the official number game and the estimated number game by location and opponent? The NCAA only began reporting “official” attendance starting in 1948. Supposedly, the official record was at “The Big House” in 2013 v. the Michigan Wolverines reported at 115,109. The “unofficial estimated” highest attendance was at Soldier Field in Chicago v. USC in 1927 at 123,000.

2. Seven Notre Dame football players have been awarded the Heisman Trophy. Since 1935, four Notre Dame football players have finished second in the Heisman voting. Can you name them? Angelo Bertelli in 1941, Joe Theisman in 1970, Raghib “Rocket” Ishmail in 1990 and Manti T’eo in 2011.

3. Kent Baer was the Irish head coach for one game in 2004. The Irish lost. Baer’s winning percentage of 0.00% is the all-time worst among all Notre Dame head coaches. Can you name the Irish head coach with the highest winning percentage? Knute Rockne

Here are your Irish Trivia Questions for this week.

1. The Irish and Wolfpack first met on the gridiron in the 2003 Toyota Gator Bowl on January 1, 2023. The Wolfpack scored 21 second quarter points in route to a 24-3 victory. The Irish QB was Pat Dillingham. The Wolfpack QB was the #4 pick in the NFL draft by the New York Giants who traded him during the draft to the team he served as QB for the next 16 seasons, before a final season with the Indianapolis Colts. The Giants received Eli Manning in that trade. Can you name the Wolfpack QB in the 2003 Gator Bowl?

2. In that same 2003 Gator Bowl game, the Wolfpack was coached by Chuck Amato. Note the white framed glasses in this shot of Chuck on the sidelines.

In any event, can you name the Irish Head Coach in that Gator Bowl game?

3. Irish legend Lou Holtz was the Head Coach at North Carolina State for four seasons from 1972-1975. Can you name the other teams for which Lou Holtz was Head Coach during his coaching career?

And, of course, our hearts forever . . .

. . . Love, thee Notre Dame!

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