Frankie V’s Preview: Notre Dame v. North Carolina ’06

( – Notre Dame and North Carolina are two programs at opposite ends of spectrum in the world of college football this year.  The Irish enter this weekend’s contest 7-1 and ranked 9th in the latest BCS rankings while the Tar Heels limp in at 1-7 with a lame duck coach looking for their first win over a Division I school. Based on how the Irish have been playing, the Heels will still be searching for that first win come Saturday night.

North Carolina’s rushing defense has been down right dreadful this year with Heels ranking near the bottom of the NCAA run defense statistics at 115th while surrendering just over 205 yards a game on the ground.  Carolina is also one of the worst in the NCAA in scoring defense at 108th with a 32.6 points surrendered a game.

The Carolina pass defense is significantly better statistically, coming in ranked 35th in the nation at just over 171 yards a game through the air.  Is this number, however, inflated by the Tar Heels’ dreadful rushing defense?  If you look at the numbers, North Carolina’s opponents are completing 67.8% of their passes and average 8.2 yards per pass and 12 yards per completion.  By comparison, Notre Dame is currently averaging 7.3 yards per pass and 11.5 yards per completion.

Still, I expect the Irish to come out and try to establish the ground game with a heavy dose of Darius Walker.  Look for Walker to get the ball early and often much like the Stanford and Purdue games, but don’t expect the Irish to suddenly turn to a power run offense.

Walker will eclipse the 100 yard mark for the fourth time this week and could put up similar number to what he did against Stanford if freshman James Aldridge doesn’t take too many carries away from him.  Charlie Weis said this week he wants to get the freshman back into a series in the first half this week if possible so look for Aldridge to get some real playing time this week.

Notre Dame desperately needs to fix its running game which has been bottled up against most good defenses this year, and North Carolina offers the Irish a perfect opportunity to work on their ground game and hopefully rebuild the confidence of a embattled offensive line.

With the Irish committed to establishing the run this week, I don’t think Quinn will have gaudy numbers.  Its certainly possible for Quinn to have some jaw dropping stats this week as I think Carolina’s success on pass defense is a product of their failure on run defense.  I still don’t expect any crazy numbers from Quinn with Weis determined to run the ball, but rather a very efficient game like we saw last week against Navy.

David Grimes has been steadily improving over the last few weeks and should see some more passes thrown his way this week.  The sophomore receiver has really developed in a pretty good number three receiver for the Irish this year and will find himself open a lot of Carolina tries to take either Rhema McKnight or Jeff Samardzija out of the passing game.

Offensively, things don’t look much better for the Tar Heels.  They limp into South Bend this weekend averaging just over 15 points a game and have scored over 20 points just once – against Division IAA Furman.

The Heels have turned the ball over 22 times through eight games (15 interceptions, 7 fumbles) and average under 300 yards of total offense a game.  Last week they started rotating their quarterbacks, Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton, playing each two series at a time.  Neither quarterback, however, has been very impressive this year.  Dailey is completing 61.3% of his passes, but has tossed seven interceptions to just two touchdowns.  Sexton meanwhile, has been completing only 42.2% of his passes with four touchdowns to eight interceptions.

On the ground they are led by Ronnie McGill and his 523 yards rushing.  The senior running back is one of Carolina’s nine captains and has reached the end zone six times on the ground this year.

Despite the general consensus on most of the message boards, the Notre Dame defense has been steadily improving this year compared to a year ago and should be able to bottle up the Tar Heel offense on Saturday.

Carolina just doesn’t have the horses to be able to pound the ball against the Irish so look for them to try and hit some down field passes – something the Irish defense has been susceptible to surrendering this year.  Carolina knows they will have a hard time keeping up with the Irish offense so their only hope is to try and hit some big plays early or try to play a ball control offense – something I don’t think they are capable of doing.

Look for Notre Dame to pressure the Tar Heel quarterbacks when they drop back to try and force them into mistakes.  With 15 interceptions in eight games, the Notre Dame secondary should have an opportunity to get their hands on a couple passes Saturday.

This game should be pretty much over by half time.  No disrespect to the Tar Heels, but if this game isn’t over, or nearly over by half time, a lot of the doubts the media has about this year’s Irish won’t be going anywhere anytime soon.  Notre Dame should be able to score at will against a defense surrendering over 30 points a game including allowing 42 points against Division IAA Furman.

Notre Dame 42 North Carolina 10

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