SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- First, the Pac-12. Next, the ACC. Josh Adams and Notre Dame have only one question to ask: Who's next?
One by one, Notre Dame is picking off playoff contenders from Power 5 conferences and, in the process, possibly clearing a spot for itself in the final four. Irish running back Adams, meanwhile, is leapfrogging contenders for the Heisman Trophy.
After beating rival USC by the widest margin (35 points) in 40 years, the Irish faced a different challenge in NC State but used a familiar formula to win 35-14 at Notre Dame Stadium. The Irish leaned on their defense, got some timely completions from Brandon Wimbush and his pass-catchers, overcame special-teams miscues and, naturally, received a heavy boost from Adams.
On the day Notre Dame launched Adams' Heisman Trophy campaign, #33Trucking, Adams ran all over another defense, this time a formidable one in NC State's. Displaying a unique combination of size and quickness, Adams ran for 202 yards and a touchdown, his 77-yarder late in the third quarter a near replica of last week's 84-yard burst through the heart of USC's defense. It's his third 200-yard performance of the season.
Adams became the fastest Notre Dame player to reach 1,000 rushing yards, eclipsing the mark on his 110th carry. His 77-yarder marked his fourth carry of at least 77 yards this season. He now has eight runs of 59 yards or longer, which matches Notre Dame's team total from 2002 to 2014. The Heisman front-runner status of Penn State's Saquon Barkley might have taken a hit with Penn State's loss Saturday, and Adams might move past Stanford's Bryce Love, who sat out Thursday's win with an ankle injury.
The Irish took down their second consecutive top-15 opponent and improved their profile three days before the first CFP selection committee rankings. After Miami and Stanford both struggled for wins this week, Notre Dame's path to an 11-1 finish suddenly doesn't seem so daunting.
NC State came in on a six-game win streak and had a bye to rest up for the game. The Wolfpack started strong, as James Smith-Williams blocked a punt in the end zone and Germaine Pratt recovered to give the team an early lead. But out-of-character miscues -- 12 penalties and Ryan Finley's first interception of the season -- closed the window on an NC State upset. A likely miscommunication between Finley and Kelvin Harmon allowed Notre Dame cornerback Julian Love to make an easy interception and, escorted by defensive end Daelin Hayes and others, race 69 yards to the end zone to put the Irish up 28-14 early in the third quarter.
While Adams shined, NC State couldn't counter with its own standout back, Nyheim Hines, who left the game in the first quarter with a right ankle injury and didn't return. Hines had eclipsed 100 rushing yards in each of the past three games and posed a threat on both punt and kickoff returns. Jaylen Samuels and Reggie Gallaspy II did their best, but none matched Hines' explosiveness, especially in key situations such as a fourth-and-1 at the Notre Dame 6-yard line midway through the third quarter. NC State finished with just 50 rushing yards on 24 carries.
A second loss likely eliminates the Wolfpack from playoff contention, but they can still make a push in the ACC, where they're unbeaten. NC State hosts Clemson next week. Notre Dame, meanwhile, completes its home stretch against Wake Forest before visiting Miami on Nov. 11.
As the calendar flips to November, it's setting up to be a huge finish for the Irish and their latest superstar.