Notre Dame hits the road this afternoon for the third time this season as they look to improve to 5-1 on the season with an injury riddled North Carolina team standing in their way. The Tar Heels will host the Irish as perhaps the most injured team in the country. Notre Dame brings its own injury concerns into the game as well with the status of starting quarterback Brandon Wimbush still up in the air. Can the Irish win without Wimbush? Let’s find out.
What Concerns Me This Week
The health of the Notre Dame running backs. Notre Dame running backs have been a bit banged up over the last few weeks. The Irish didn’t have Tony Jones for the Michigan State game or Dexter Williams for Miami of Ohio. Then last week the Irish lost Josh Adams to a “cranky” ankle and Tony Jones after taking a head shot in the 2nd quarter. All Irish backs are expected to be ready this week though it would be surprising to see much if any of Jones after the hit he took last week. Notre Dame needs all three backs to get through this week and into the bye week healthy because they will be needed for the upcoming stretch of games featuring 3 ranked opponents over four weeks.
Staying healthy. With a bye week next week before USC and a wounded opponent that the Irish should handle easily today, let’s hope the Irish do so while staying healthy. If the Irish win today and head into the showdown with USC at 5-1, they will have a chance to insert themselves into the playoff conversation. I’ve been avoiding mentioning the P word so far after last year, but if the Irish are sitting at 5-1 while hosting the Trojans, they could get themselves back in the mix. Now, let’s make sure they get there 5-1 ad they do so healthy.
Midterms Week. Notre Dame has had a history of being flat during midterms week and this year midterms also combine with a road game. Ruh roh right? Possibly. If Notre Dame comes out sluggish this could be one of the reasons why.
A repeat of 2014. I have had a hard time not having some flashbacks to 2014 when it looked like the Notre Dame defense under then first year defensive coordinator Brian Vangorder was on it’s way to becoming a pretty good unit. Then North Carolina came to town and tore that defense apart and it was never the same after. This one could just be a bit of paranoia but that game shouldn’t have been close either but it was.
What Doesn’t Concern Me This Week
Who starts at quarterback for Notre Dame. I don’t think it matters who starts for Notre Dame under center. North Carolina’s defense is so banged up that the Irish could potentially win this one with very little passing at all. I don’t think we’ll see Wimbush start after trying to interpret Kelly-speak all week and think Ian Book is capable of coming in and leading the offense to a victory. Wimbush will still be available if needed, but I don’t think he will be. Book meanwhile will put together a nice stat sheet and there will be an inevitable call for him to start by some Irish fans.
Notre Dame’s 3rd road game in 4 weeks. Notre Dame has been pretty bad on the road in recent years but so far this year the Irish have won both road games by 20 or more points against Power 5 opponents. North Carolina doesn’t exactly have an intimidating atmosphere and their previously mentioned injury woes won’t make it any sort of daunting task to go in to Chapel Hill this afternoon.
Players to Watch
- Josh Adams – How is that ankle today?
- Equanimeous St. Brown – If Ian Book does start, ESB will be getting a lot of one on one looks with Carolina likely loading the box to force Book to beat them with his arm. Brown could finally have the breakout performance we’ve been waiting for all season today.
- Daelin Hayes – He’s been very quiet in the pass rush since week one. Can they get the youngster going today?
- Notre Dame Tight Ends – If Book starts, the tight ends should be involved early and often as young quarterbacks tend to lean on their tight ends.
- Nick Watkins – He had a tough outing last week but he’s too good to have back to back games like that. UNC might test him early after they saw last week’s game tape though.
- Shaun Crawford – Because watch this kid every week. He’s a ballhawk.
- Dexter Williams – Will he be fully back this week?
- Kevin Stepherson – We saw him briefly last week for a series and then not much else. Look for Notre Dame to try to get him involved more this week.
How’d I Do Last Week
Not too shabby. At halftime it looked like my prediction would be way off as Notre Dame raced to 45 first half points. The Irish finished with a 52-17 victory while I predicted Notre Dame 49-13. I was worried about Notre Dame’s running backs health last week and sure enough the Irish lost Josh Adams after his absolutely torrid start. Adams had 159 yards before getting shut down in the second quarter with a minor ankle injury. He is expected back today though.
Regardless of who starts at quarterback, this is a game Notre Dame should win. The Tar Heels string of injuries has been absolutely brutal. Notre Dame’s running game should be able to get going no matter how much North Carolina stacks the box as long as the Notre Dame running backs are relatively healthy. The Tar Heels have scored just 24 points combined in the last two weeks against Duke and Wake Forest. Mike Elko’s defense will continue its string of holding opponents to 20 points or less this afternoon and Notre Dame’s ground game and some timely passing from Book (or Wimbush) get it done and get the Irish back into the top 20.
In the preseason I had predicted a 31-21 victory for Notre Dame, but given what I’ve seen so far, I’m not sticking with that. I think Notre Dame wins bigger than that today even with it being a road game during midterms week.
Actual Prediction: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 17
Preseason Prediction: Notre Dame 31, North Carolina 21
Yearly Prediction Summary
|Game||Pre-Season||Game Week||Actual Outcome|
|Week 6: North Carolina||ND 31-21||ND 41-17|
|Week 5: Miami OH||ND 42-17||ND 49-13||ND 52-17|
|Week 4: Michigan State||ND 24-13||ND 30-28||ND 38-18|
|Week 3: Boston College||ND 35-10||ND 35-10||ND 49-20|
|Week 2: Georgia||UGA 29-27||UGA 29-27||UGA 20-19|
|Week 1: Temple||ND 31-21||ND 31-21||ND 49-16|