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Notre Dame Football

Left stiff: UNC quelled by Kyren Williams, Notre Dame

October 31, 2021
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Tomon Fox had the angle, the size and his North Carolina team had momentum Saturday night inside Notre Dame Stadium.

A split-second later, Fox had a face-mask-view of Kyren Williams – specifically the Irish running back's right arm – Under Armour glove and all – shoving Fox to the turf.

Seconds later, Williams had a career-long 91-yard scoring run, and Notre Dame had the breathing room it needed to pull away for a 44-34 victory.

Williams had darted right, the Tar Heels' defense shoving into the Irish backfield, and nearly was caught for a loss.

But the junior captain cut back to his left, stiff-armed Fox to the turf and got a key block downfield from Michael Mayer as well as late interference from Avery Davis to cap the long-distance strike.

“I knew I was going to score as soon as I stiff-armed No. 12,” said Williams, who closed with a career-best 199 rushing yards. “At first it was very cloudy (with a lot of defense near the line of scrimmage).

“I just knew at that point, we turned the corner, I had to get going.”

North Carolina (4-4) didn't slip quietly away; it pulled within 41-34 with seven-plus minutes to play when quarterback Sam Howell barreled around and through the Irish defense for a 31-yard touchdown run.

The Irish (7-1), who added a Jonathan Doerer chip-shot field goal for the final margin, thwarted the Heels' last-second scoring quest inside their own 10-yard line.

Coan finished with 214 yards passing and added 28 on the ground, including his 21-yard scoring jaunt into the right corner of the north end zone.

Irish coach Brian Kelly praised the offensive evolution – both from the coaches' approach and Coan's continued development.

“We were dumb (in the opening of the season),” Kelly said. “We were dumb. We've found, obviously, a niche where he feels comfortable.

“The epiphany for us was the Virginia Tech game where we put him back in where he had not had a good start. We put him back in and said (after Coan rallied the team), 'OK, we've got this figured out now.”

Notre Dame actually trailed briefly in the third quarter, after North Carolina's Ty Chandler uncorked a 53-yard run untouched into the end zone.

But the Heels' 20-17 edge, despite their ability to outgain their hosts, 564-523, was short-lived.

The Irish answered with a three-play march that vaulted them on top for the remainder of the game. Williams opened with a 14-yard run, Lorenzo Styles Jr. turned a quick-out pass from Coan into a 40-yard gain, and then Coan added his Notre Dame-best 21-yard rush for six.

“I don't take anything for granted when I'm running,” Coan joked post-game, on when he knew he was going to score. “It was a lot of fun.”

Though the defense was gashed, especially by Howell in the running game, the unit got a key interception from DJ Brown and also helped the Irish account for five of the game's final seven scores.

“I really like this team,” Kelly said. “I love their grit. I love that they're getting better each week.”

Howell spurred the Heels' upset bid with 442 yards' total offense; he threw for 341 and one score while he added 101 on the ground along with a 31-yard scoring run.

And though UNC big-play receiver Josh Downs had 14 catches for 142 yards, the second week in a row a wideout burned the Irish defense for 140 or more receiving yards after Drake London did the same, Downs was kept out of the end zone and no other UNC skill player had more than five receptions.

Notre Dame’s first two touchdowns came from a pair of veteran wideouts. Avery Davis initiated the game’s scoring with a 7-yard catch-and-run from Tyler Buchner as the Irish hammered the UNC defense with quick action on the perimeter. Kevin Austin then adjusted beautifully and overcame strong coverage to toe-tap his left foot into the end zone for a 17-10 edge.

Logan Diggs added a 1-yard rush as he spelled Williams in the second half, and Doerer converted all three of his field-goal attempts.

Up next for Notre Dame is the finale of its three-game homestand when Navy visits next Saturday (2:30 p.m., NBC).

The Midshipmen, losers in 13 of their last 18 games dating to last season, eked out a 20-17 road win Friday at Tulsa.

 
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