SOUTH BEND, Ind. — There was plenty of Love in the air and on the ground as No. 9 Notre Dame continued its comeback season with a convincing 35-14 victory over No. 14-ranked North Carolina State on a blustery Saturday afternoon.
“It’s amazing running behind those guys,” Notre Dame running back Josh Adams said after he rushed for 202 yards on 27 carries, including a 77-yard touchdown burst in the third quarter. “I just love those guys.”
The long run came almost eight minutes after cornerback Julian Love returned an interception 69 yards for a touchdown, his second interception return for a touchdown this season. The two touchdowns put the Irish on cruise control after leading 21-14 at halftime.
“I thought we really needed it,” said Love, who also had three passes broken up. “We were up but you always need that turn of momentum, that crushing blow to an opponent.”
Adams, who got his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season and second 200-yard effort, has been catapulted into the Heisman Trophy race by his offensive line that produced 318 rushing yards. The 6-2, 225-pound junior has 1,169 yards on 132 carries, 8.9 yards per carry.
“There’s 11 guys on offense, 11 on defense and 11 on special teams,” Adams, who wears No. 33, said about the online campaign “33 Trucking.” “I don’t think it’s built around me. We’re just trying to stay focused on what we want to accomplish.”
The sixth straight victory by Brian Kelly’s team, now 7-1, avenged a 10-3 loss at N.C. State last year in the aftermath of Hurricane Matthew that was the low point of a 4-8 campaign. N.C. State (6-2) saw its six-game winning streak come to an end.
“Our guys were up to the task,” Kelly said. “They continually come out with energy and a mind-set to get after the opponent.”
Love’s interception ended N.C. State quarterback Ryan Finley’s streak of consecutive passes without throwing an interception at 339. Earlier this season, Love had a 50-yard interception return for a TD in Notre Dame’s 38-18 victory at Michigan State.
“That was a huge momentum play,” N.C. State coach Dave Doeren said. “I thought their defensive kids played well We were able to score just one touchdown.”
Notre Dame junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush had three first-half touchdowns, his 11th rushing TD of the season and two scoring passes of 25 yards to Durham Smythe and 11 yards to Kevin Stepherson. The scoring pass to Smythe came after Germaine Pratt of N.C. State fell on a blocked Irish punt to put the Wolfpack up 7-0.
“When you get a punt block, the tendency is that it affects your football team,” Kelly said. “Our team didn’t flinch.”
N.C. State suffered a big blow to its offense when Nyheim Hines, who had rushed for more than 100 yards in the previous three games, injured an ankle on the kickoff following Notre Dame’s first touchdown.