Notre Dame had an hour and 45 minutes to mull its offensive struggles. Through the first quarter at North Carolina State, the No. 10 Irish had gone three-and-out twice and stalled out short of the red zone on its third drive, leading to the longest made field goal in Notre Dame history. The Irish (3-0) may have been leading the Wolfpack (1-1) by three points, but its offense was suffering its first struggles of the Sam Hartman era.
Then junior Audric Estimé broke off an 80-yard touchdown run and Notre Dame never looked back. Five chunk plays of 35 yards or more directly led to 28 points, including Estimé’s touchdown, and those tallies alone would have been enough for the Irish in a 45-24 win.
After thunderstorms paused the game for those nearly two hours, pushing its halftime break into the window other noon kickoffs were ending, Notre Dame offensive coordinator Gerad Parker employed almost an unfair advantage. The Irish moved likely top-10 NFL draft pick left tackle Joe Alt to a tight end position, where he played in high school, aligned next to possible first-round NFL draft pick right tackle Blake Fisher.
Not many defensive lines can match up with that combination shoulder-to-shoulder, not to mention then square up against all 227 pounds of Estimé. And North Carolina State certainly could not. Cue touchdown.
A year ago, Estimé struggled to finish those runs, frequently gaining 30 yards but never running away from defenses. A stricter offseason diet helped him get a bit leaner — most notably cutting his Popeye’s habit from twice a week to once every two weeks — and the result showed in that 80-yard jaunt.
Once Notre Dame broke through, the Wolfpack could not stem the onslaught. A 65-yard successful scramble drill to senior receiver Chris Tyree from Hartman led to a touchdown just before halftime, and a pair of long touchdown passes to sophomore tight end Holden Staes emboldened Hartman’s stat line.
For three years, Hartman had struggled against North Carolina State, going 1-2 against the Wolfpack and throwing three interceptions in each of the last seasons against the 3-3-5 defense while at Wake Forest. He will end his collegiate career with the last laugh, throwing for 286 yards and four touchdowns on just 15-of-24 passing.
3:18 — Notre Dame field goal. Spencer Shrader 54 yards. Notre Dame 3, North Carolina State 0. (12 plays, 50 yards, 5:51)
14:32 — Notre Dame touchdown. Audric Estimé 80-yard rush. Shrader point after good. Notre Dame 10, North Carolina State 0. (1 play, 80 yards, 0:13)
1:16 — North Carolina State touchdown. Bradley Rozner 9-yard pass from Brennan Armstrong. Brayden Narveson point after good. Notre Dame 10, North Carolina State 7. (7 plays, 62 yards, 1:03)
0:40 — Notre Dame touchdown. Jaden Greathouse 13-yard pass from Sam Hartman. Shrader point after good. Notre Dame 17, North Carolina State 7. (3 plays, 78 yards, 0:30)
7:27 — North Carolina State field goal. Narveson 49 yards. Notre Dame 17, North Carolina State 10. (5 plays, 48 yards, 1:15)
5:50 — Notre Dame touchdown. Holden Staes 40-yard pass from Hartman. Sharder point after good. Notre Dame 24, North Carolina State 10. (3 plays, 76 yards, 1:30)
2:55 — North Carolina State touchdown. Armstrong 1-yard rush. Narveson point after good. Notre Dame 24, North Carolina State 17. (7 plays, 75 yards, 2:55)
11:38 — Notre Dame touchdown. Davis Sherwood 10-yard pass from Hartman. Shrader point after good. Notre Dame 31, North Carolina State 17. (5 plays, 33 yards, 2:43)
10:42 — Notre Dame touchdown. Estimé 7-yard rush. Sharder point after good. Notre Dame 38, North Carolina State 17. (3 plays, 16 yards, 0:36)
4:35 — Notre Dame touchdown. Staes 35-yard pass from Hartman. Sharder point after good. Notre Dame 45, North Carolina State 17. (5 plays, 54 yards, 3:03)
2:03 —North Carolina State touchdown. Dacari Collins 23-yard pass from Armstrong. Narveson point after good. Notre Dame 45, North Carolina State 24. (9 plays, 65 yards, 2:32)