SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) -- Notre Dame keeps winning -- just not as impressively as many expect.
Brady Quinn threw for a season-high 346 yards and four touchdowns and the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish beat North Carolina 45-26 on Saturday.
In a place like South Bend, where football tradition goes back generations, it's not easy for today's players to break into the record books. All the more reason to applaud Jeff Samardzija. Samardzija on Saturday caught the 23rd touchdown pass of his career -- as part of a six-catch, 177-yard day -- to move past Derrick Mayes on the all-time Irish list.
But the Irish couldn't put away the struggling Tar Heels until early in the fourth quarter, giving up a 90-yard kickoff return and a 72-yard TD pass.
Irish coach Charlie Weis was in a good mood afterward, though, saying he was disappointed about the big plays but pleased his team is improving.
He said he's worried about the next game against Air Force and "really not worrying about any crescendo or fever pitch or anything like that as far as the team on the rise. I'm more concerned about just getting better."
It appeared for a while the 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 the 90-yard kickoff return by Brandon Tate and a 72-yard touchdown catch by Hakeem Nicks as North Carolina kept the score respectable until late.
"I'm concerned any time we give up long ones," Weis said. "It's something we have to keep working on. It hasn't been that way every week. It's actually been better this year. But we gave up a couple today."
North Carolina coach John Bunting was more bothered by the plays his team gave up.
"I'm a little frustrated with the way the game ended and frustrated with some of the big plays we gave up defensively," he said.
Notre Dame improved 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. On the bright side, though, the 26 points were the most scored by the Tar Heels against Notre Dame and the most they've scored against a I-A opponent this season.
Weis said he was pleased overall with the play of the defense.
"I thought the first half, with the exception of the one drive which we gave up, I thought the defense really came and set the tempo in the game," Weis said.
The Irish, who have been unable to move up in the poll despite continuing to win, didn't look overly impressive against a bad team.
"Everybody knows they've been giving up points, but the problem is stopping their offense," tailback Ronnie McGill said. "We knew we could move the ball. They do have some weak spots in their defense and people have scored points on them."
But the win was enough to keep alive Notre Dame's hopes for a second straight Bowl Championship Series berth.
Jeff 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.
North Carolina linebacker Durell Mapp wasn't too impressed.
"Brady Quinn is a good quarterback, but they really aren't different from what we see from week to week," he said. "Actually, they are a little slower than most teams in the ACC, however they run a very precise offense. They really do have a good scheme with the way they mix up their play calls."
Joe Dailey, who started and played most of the game, was 14 of 22 passing for 213 yards with three touchdown passes. McGill ran for 61 yards on 13 carries as the Tar Heels managed just 244 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.
Samardzija said whether any one else is impressed by Notre Dame doesn't matter.
"We're grooving right now and we feel good about our offense and where we're at," he said.
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