Notre Dame Football Key Matchups: North Carolina ’17

With one game left before the Notre Dame Fighting Irish begin their bye week, building on a strong 4-1 start should serve as enough motivation against the injury-plagued North Carolina Tar Heels. While the Irish rushing offense is in high gear, the fact is that Brandon Wimbush’s status is questionable for the game. However, facing a school that’s allowed 33 points per game during their 1-4 start is something that could help cushion that potential absence.

Listed below are some key matchups to watch for Saturday afternoon’s contest:

Josh Adams vs. Jonathan Smith

Adams left the Miami (Ohio) game with an ankle injury in the second quarter after racking up 159 yards that including two huge scoring runs. Given that Notre Dame was in complete control of the contest, there was no sense bringing him back in the game, so the expectation is that he’ll be ready to face North Carolina.

Situated at middle linebacker for the Tar Heels is Jonathan Smith, who took over for Andre Smith after two games when the latter Smith suffered a season-ending injury. Jonathan Smith has put up modest numbers since ascending to the starting lineup. Regardless of whether Adams answers the call or the main ballcarrier is Dexter Williams or Deon McIntosh, Smith will have his hands full with the re-energized Irish running game.

Nyles Morgan vs. Jordon Brown/Michael Carter

Morgan continues to have a strong season, with the Irish rushing defense having allowed just one touchdown in the first five games. Leading the way with 41 tackles is Morgan, who has also managed to make his presence felt against opposing passers and has also forced a fumble.

Brown and Carter have amassed two-thirds of the Tar Heel rushing yardage this year and crossed the goal line a total of eight times. Brown also happens to lead North Carolina in receptions with 20, which will make him the key player among this duo to watch.

Equanimeous St. Brown vs. M.J. Stewart

After being under the radar in the first three games of 2017, St. Brown has begun to emerge and is hopefully poised to recapture the magic that made him one of last season’s few bright spots. Over the past two games, he’s had seven grabs for 103 yards. Against Miami on Saturday, he caught all three of his passes on a single drive, including his second touchdown reception. His defender was also flagged for pass interference on another play during that series.

Stewart passed up the chance to enter the NFL Draft last April and remains one of the standouts in the North Carolina secondary. At 6-feet and 205 pounds, Stewart gives away five inches in height to St. Brown, though he tends to be active all around the field. He’s matured from some early missteps in his collegiate career and has five pass breakups, four tackles-for-loss and even a pair of sacks so far this year.

Notre Dame Defense vs. Chazz Surratt

Picking up four victories in the first five games has been the byproduct of solid defense that’s helped the Irish limit touchdowns when opposing squads reach the red zone. Forcing turnovers has also been helped the Notre Dame offense convert those opposing mistakes into 70 points.

Surratt has thrown for nearly 1,000 yards and is also mobile enough to make things dicey for Irish defenders. He’s only thrown two interceptions in his 128 pass attempts, though he sometimes forces the ball into coverage when pressed. Keeping the pressure on throughout the game will limit his chances of having a say in manufacturing an upset.

Tommy Kraemer/Robert Hainsey vs. Malik Carney

The tandem of Kraemer and Hainsey continue to improve in sharing time at right tackle They’ll be facing a player who ranks among the best among North Carolina defenders at trapping ballcarriers behind the line. Improvement when it comes to reducing the number of false starts since the start of the season for Notre Dame is one indication of the duo’s success, with another simply being the team’s offensive output.

Carney has shown the ability this year to either get to the quarterback or makes things difficult for them, collecting 1.5 sacks and a trio of quarterback hurries. Since protecting Wimbush is part of the job description for Kraemer and Hainsey, keeping him – or Ian Book in potentially his first career start – upright and mobile means keeping Carney in check.

Next Up

The hope is that during the early evening hours of Saturday, the Irish will be sporting a 5-1 record and with two weeks to prepare for what’s likely to be their stiffest challenge of the season. That would be the USC Trojans, who saw their dream of an undefeated season end with a loss at conference rival Washington State last Friday and can’t afford another defeat. Otherwise, their national title hopes disappear.

The Trojans are looking to regroup with a pair of home games next on their schedule. This Saturday, they host Oregon State, followed by an October 14 clash against Utah. Notre Dame can’t afford another loss either if they want to be in consideration for the national title. The Irish have won three of the last five meetings in this longstanding rivalry, including the last two in South Bend.

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  1. Key Matchups will be ND vs USC and ND vs NCST in back to back weeks. Thats when we find out the true quality of this years
    team. Besides Georgia the caliber of competition has been a little weak. All wins so far are against programs having down
    years. Had Kizer returned for another year ND would be sitting at 5-0 right now.

    1. Jeff , North Carolina State looking really dangerous — beat Louisville last night despite Lamar Jackson putting up 400 plus yards and 3 touch downs. No doubt about it — these two back to back weeks will show which way Irish are heading.

  2. George,
    Shaws speech was much gobbledygook. To kneel or not to kneel, that is the question. Next, there will be a kneeler for the kneeling impaired, conforming to ADA specifications.

    1. I agree that Shaw needs to grow a pair. I’m just not sure why we’re talking about him right now. Guess because San Fran is the home of kneeling and you want Book to take a knee in Victory Formation.

  3. I think ND can beat NC with Ian Book. I don’t think ND can beat Southern Cal without a healthy Brandon Wimbush. I think I’d rather start Book against NC to make sure we have a healthy Wimbush ready to go against Southern Cal.

  4. George, I don’t type my remarks, I hype them. Now that I got your attention about Kaepernick, I suggest you read David Shaws regarding. Can’t wait to see their clowns lined up in Palo Alto.

  5. this season is 1 game at a time BOOK was very good at the spring game and has looked sharp in garbage time. he has a quick release and finds his 2nd receiver reads and progressions well. he should b more than capable to lead the team to road win this week if necessary! lets hope Wimbush can play because a 3 week layoff before USC cant help.

  6. It’s no surprise to me if Wimbush is feeling a bit of pain. I’m not sure why he was running as much as he did anyway. He’s not a running back and while he is definitely fleet of foot he needs to learn how to go down gracefully without injury.

    I liked what I saw from Ian Book. Not sure what to expect from him as a starter but I am comfortable that he can run the game if required.

    And of course, Go Irish!!!!!

    Brad Sinclair

    1. Looking for youtube videos of how to get tackled and gracefully go down without injury so I can send to Wimbush.
      Good suggestion.

      And of course, Go Irish!

  7. Thank you all you paranoid, schizoid voters. I always wanted to be installed in the Fighting Irish book of world records.

  8. Hypothetical, I know but what if Winbush doesn’t play Saturday and Book plays lights out, hits 18 for 23 for 200 yards passing and Notre dame wins 45 to 10. Who starts vs USC. I hope Book plays and lights it up. He can run pretty well, not close to Winbush, but from everything I’ve seen and read is a much more accurate passer.

      1. Why are we even going to try throwing for 300 yards when we can probably run for 600 in the first three quarters if we put our minds to it? These guys are banged up nearly as bad as we were at the end of 2014!

        Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

    1. Ok, I’ll play. What if neither Book or Wimbush play and Montgomery throws for 500 yards and 7 TD’s? What then for goodness sake?

    2. Then we take it as a good game against a banged up team and stick with Wimbush.

      It’s always easy to love the back-up QB; and Book’s strengths do seem be where Wimbush is struggling. But where is Book great? Where is he exceptional? He might be fair, or good, at some things; but Wimbush is a great running QB. His legs are a big reason we’re 4-1. He’s also got a cannon (wildly innacurate, but still) for an arm. He’s a dynamic athlete who can make plays but is struggling with some of the skills necessary to be a complete QB. So would you rather have an incomplete, developing QB who is an explosive playmaker with game changing talent, or an incomplete, developing QB who does a lot of things pretty well?

      I like Book. I expect him to surprise people and compete for a starting job at ND. But of our two developing QBs, he’s the one who brings less capital to the table right now.

  9. One thing you can usually count on. When Kelly says one of his players is “questionable”, that player is out, usually for several weeks.
    The up side of Wimbush’s mobility and amazing running ability are taken for granted by many posters.
    So all the Wimbush detractors might finally get what they want.
    The OL will be tested with stunts and blitzes by NC, if NC can find a way to clog the running lanes, which, fortunately, they haven’t been able to do much.
    According to SB sportswriter Hansen, other than against GT, NC has been ahead going into the 4th quarter of every game they’ve lost.
    No disrespect to Ian, but we could very clearly see the difference without as gifted and mobile a QB on Saturday.
    No sure thing with an untested QB on the road in his first start. Quick passes and pounding the run are in order.
    I hope my anxiety is unwarranted.

  10. Notre Dame has a bye week before USC comes to town. Second, UNC is beat up really badly and cannot possibly stop Josh Adams and Dexter Williams. Otherwise, this has all the makings of a trap game.

    1. Actually, it has none, not single one of the indicia of a trap game.

      Boston College did, because it was both in a let down spot and SANDWICHED between Georgia
      and Michigan State.

      NC State is a classic letdown spot, coming the week after what will be a frenzied event against USC. That is the first home game since Miami (Yawn) a night game and the recruiting hoopla will merely leverage the traditional frenzy upward.

      Words and phrases have meaning, at least they did until recent years.

      Simply, this is not a trap game.

  11. Ian Book can take the Kaepernick knee at the end, then get the hell outta Chapel Hill and start preparing for bigger prey, the dreaded Trojans.

    1. Kaepernick can take the old Cub Scout salute and read between the lines – not because he kneels during the anthem, but because HE DIDN’T EVEN VOTE IN THE ELECTION after his “great” act of protest.

      Bruce G. Curme
      La Crosse, Indiana

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