Irish improve to 8-1 for 1st time since '02
Brady Quinn threw for four TDs in a 45-26 win over North Carolina.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Brady Quinn passed for four touchdowns and a season-high 346 yards to help No. 11 Notre Dame overcome breakdowns on defense and special teams and beat North Carolina 45-26 Saturday.
It appeared for a while the Fighting Irish would put the game away early, breaking a 7-7 tie with a pair of touchdowns and a field goal to move ahead 24-7.
But the Irish gave up a 90-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate and a 72-yard touchdown catch by Hakeem Nicks as the Tar Heels kept it respectable.
Notre Dame improves to 8-1 for the first time since 2002, when the Irish won their first eight games under Tyrone Willingham. It marks the first time the Irish have won at least eight games in back-to-back seasons since 1996.
The Tar Heels (1-8) fell to 1-16 all-time against the Irish and lost their second straight since coach John Bunting was fired.
Never really threatened
Unlike a week earlier, though, when the game against No. 22 Wake Forest went down to the final play in a 24-17, the Tar Heels never really threatened. But the Irish, who have been unable to move up in the poll despite continuing to win, didn't look overly impressive in the victory.
The 26 points by the Tar Heels were the most against a Division I-A opponent this season. The Irish defense was burned by big plays, as it has been all season.
On North Carolina's first scoring drive, the Irish gave up a 35-yard run by Ronnie McGill and a 21-yard pass from Joe Dailey to Nicks, who had six catches for 171 yards.
But the win was enough to keep alive Notre Dame's hopes for a second straight Bowl Championship Series berth.
Notre Dame opened the game with its quickest scoring drive to start a game this season, with Quinn completing 4-of-5 passes capped by a 7-yard TD pass to Rhema McKnight. The score was setup by a 35-yard pass from Quinn to Jeff Samardzija.
Strong Irish defense
After the Heels tied the score at 7 on a 12-yard pass from Dailey to Jesse Holley, they couldn't do much offensively the rest of the half. They went three-and-out in their four next possessions, losing a total of 14 yards along the way.
But they closed to 24-13 on Tate's touchdown and 31-19 in the second half on a 13-yard pass from Dailey to Nicks. Nicks ran by cornerback Terrail Lambert for the long score that made it 38-26.
Samardzija had six catches for 177 yards and a touchdown. It was his 23rd career touchdown catch, breaking the school record set by Derrick Mayes in 1995.
Quinn, who completed 23-of-35 passes, also threw an 11-yard TD pass to John Carlson and TD passes of 7 and 14 yards to McKnight. Darius Walker run for 86 yards and a touchdown on 20 carries.
The Irish also had several good plays on special teams. Tom Zbikowski returned a punt 52 yards for a touchdown and defensive tackles Derek Landri and Trevor Laws each blocked a point after attempt.
Dailey, who started and played most of the game, was 14 of 22 passing for 213 yards. McGill ran for 61 yards on 13 carries as the Tar Heels managed just 248 yards total offense -- 128 of that coming on three plays. North Carolina was called for five personal fouls, including two on one play that helped set up Notre Dame's final touchdown.
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