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Irish hope to keep wins coming against unbeaten UNC

Marcus Freeman finally got is first win as Notre Dame’s head football coach last week, but it wasn’t easy by any means.

Freeman said after the win, “this is a special day for me, personally. I keep trying to tell myself to enjoy it.”

It wasn’t easy when you think that the Irish had four possessions that all ended in punts to start the game. QB Drew Pyne was, to be polite, horrible in the first quarter but then did settle in to the position. The Irish made a lot of mistakes in the game, while the offense looked much better than the first two games, but still needs a lot of work. The defense was able, this time, to hold on to the victory, but it was also a struggle. But, as they say, a win is a win and take it whenever you can.

Freeman admitted there is still a LOT of work to be done on both sides of the ball despite the talent that is available.

After giving up long late-game drives in its first two games, this time Notre Dame defense appeared to rise to the occasion by holding California inside its 10 yard line and forcing a punt in the final minutes. All ND needed was one first down to put the game away, but instead, ran three-and-out and gave the ball back to the Golden Bears and QB Jack Plummer.

The Irish defense appeared to have the game won on a couple of occasions during Cal’s finial drive.

An interception that would have sealed the victory was eliminated by a targeting penalty. Then a sack and fumble produced a scoop and score for the Notre Dame defense, but this time a replay review changed the fumble call to Plummer being ruled down by contact before the ball came out.

That gave California one final play.

A “Hail Mary” pass by Plummer was batted around by several Notre Dame players, before eventually hitting the hands of a Cal player on the ground in the end zone. Fortunately for the Irish, he couldn’t pull the ball in, and Freeman, the players and fans, had their first win of the season.

ND is on the road today to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to take on the unbeaten Tar Heels. A win today would put the Irish at .500 leading into a off week next week, before the Shamrock Series game with BYU in Las Vegas.

NC wins are over Florida A&M, 56-24; Appalachian State, 63-61; and Georgia State, 35-28. Notice the high scoring in each game.

The top back for the Heels is Amarion Hampton, with 235 yards on 38 carries and five scores. Freshman quarterback Drake Maye is 72-for-97 passing for 930 yards and 11 TDs. The top receiver is Kobe Paysour with 14 catches for 172 yards and two TDs. However, NC’s top receiver is Josh Downs. He got hurt in the opener and missed the next two games. He will be in th lineup today and is a key to the Tar Heels passing attack.

ND leads the series 20-1. ND has won last four between the schools.

The game has a 3:30 p.m. scheduled start and will be televised nationally by ABC.

IRISH NOTES ... Some game stats from last week. Audric Estime had 76 yards on 18 carries and a score and Chris Tyree had 64 yards on 16 carries. Pyne was 17 of 23 passing for 150 yards, two TDs and no interceptions. Tyree was the leading receiver with five catches for 44 yards; Estime added 43 yards on three catches; and Lorenzo Styles had 29 yards on three catches. Blake Grupe had a 47 yard field goal. Defensively, DJ Brown and Howard Cross III each had seven tackles with JD Bertrand and Jacob Lacey getting five each ... North Carolina has a potent offensive attack that will test the Irish defense today. Last week the Tar Heels racked up 467 total yards, with 284 yards coming from the aerial attack. The Tar Heels boast the nation’s fifth highest-scoring offense, but rank 120th in scoring defense ... ND wore green jerseys last week with their names on the back. It was announced before the season started that the team would wear the green jerseys for the Cal game. Don’t expect to see the players’ names on the back of their regular blue or white jerseys. ND does not allow that. Names on the back of jerseys is for special games as allowed by the university ... I noted the high scores of the NC game so far. North Carolina has scored a total of 154 points, averaging 51 points per matchup. Although the Tar Heels score points, they also give up a lot of points in a game, again looking at the final scores of the first three games ... ND is off next week and returns to action on Oct. 8 in a Shamrock Series game against BYU at Allegiant stadium in Las Vegas, home of the NFL Raiders. Since the Shamrock Series game is technically ruled a “home game” for ND, NBC will televised it nationally with a 7:30 p.m. air time, kickoff about 7:40 p.m ... ND is a two point underdog today. The game is a sellout ... In my preseason picks I have North Carolina winning today. The Tar Heels enter the game at 3-0 but it is hard to judge them because of the opponents they have defeated so far. I will stay with my pick for a Tar Heel win. No column next week, it will return for the BYU game.