Notre Dame Football Primer: #2 Irish travel to North Carolina

Brian Kelly and the #2 Fighting Irish hit the road once again to take on Mack Brown’s #25 Tar Heels in a special Black Friday showdown. North Carolina is led by a high-powered offense that features quarterback Sam Howell. If Notre Dame wants to make the ACC Championship Game, they must battle through a few injuries on the road in Chapel Hill.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Friday, November 27th at 3:30 pm ET on ABC
  • Location: Kenan Memorial Stadium, Chapel Hill, North Carolina
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 18-1 all-time against the North Carolina Tar Heels (Last Meeting 2017: Notre Dame won 33 to 10)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -3.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 20% chance of rain with a high of 66 degrees and a low of 46.

North Carolina Details:

  • Conference: Atlantic Coast Conference
  • Head Coach: Mack Brown
  • 2020 Record: 6-2 (6-2)
  • 2019 Record: 7-6 (4-4)

North Carolina Storylines:

Upset-minded Tar Heels enter Black Friday clash. Just a year ago, North Carolina almost upset the #1 Clemson Tigers in Chapel Hill. Mack Brown elected to go for a two-point conversion instead of potential overtime, but the Tar Heels could not convert. The Tigers went on to escape with a 21 to 20 victory. It is 2020, and look for Mack Brown to pull out all the tricks this week against the Irish.

North Carolina is 6-2 this fall, and their only two losses of the season were by a combined 6-points.

Sam Howell is an elite quarterback. The Tar Heels have been winning games by outscoring their opponents in 2020, and Howell is a significant reason for their success. This season, he is 168 for 248 (68%) with 2,631 passing yards, 23 passing touchdowns, and 6 interceptions.

Sam Howell has 63 rushes for 73 yards (1.2 yards per carry) with 3 rushing scores on the ground.

Key Tar Heel Players. Javonte Williams leads North Carolina’s running attack. This year, Williams has 120 attempts for 868 yards and 15 touchdowns. The top receivers for the Tar Heels are Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. In 2020, Brown has 45 receptions for 829 yards with 8 touchdowns, while Newsome has 34 catches for 455 yards and 4 scores.

Notre Dame Storylines:

Injuries adding up along the offensive line. It was announced last week that starting center Jarrett Patterson would miss the remainder of the season. Last weekend, more news came through that Tommy Kraemer could miss several weeks due to an appendectomy. Luckily for the Irish, the offensive line is a position they recruit very well. But the experience and cohesiveness of the offensive line was dealt a significant blow late into this season.

The turnover battle will be key on Friday. Notre Dame had three turnovers in their win over the Boston College Eagles, which made the outcome a lot closer than it should have been. Turnovers against the Tar Heels could undoubtedly be a recipe for an upset this week. For an Irish victory, Notre Dame must win the turnover margin or at least be even with North Carolina.

Notre Dame Defense will face an elite quarterback. Mack Brown and the Tar Heels put up 59-points and 56-points in their last two games. Sam Howell is a sophomore but has established himself as one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC and entire country. Clark Lea will have a great challenge against this offense.

The Fighting Irish defense received much-needed rest over the bye week and should be ready for the final three matchups of the regular season. Clark Lea will certainly have this unit prepared as he did for Phil Jurkovec and D.J. Uiagalelei in weeks prior.

Head to Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. North Carolina Defense: The Fighting Irish are putting up 38 points per game this season, while the Tar Heel Defense is surrendering 31 points per contest. Ian Book has been playing exceptional football for the past several weeks. In his last game against Boston College, Book had 283 passing yards, 85 rushing yards, and 4 total touchdowns.

If the Irish can continue to have a balanced attack, it will be a long day for the Tar Heels.

Advantage: Notre Dame

North Carolina Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: Sam Howell and the North Carolina Offense are averaging 43 points per game, while Clark Lea’s defense is only allowing 17 points per game. This will be the best defense that Howell has encountered this season, and possibly his career.

Anticipate North Carolina to put up some points, but not the amount they are accustomed to this Friday. Since this matchup is on the road, I give this category a tie.

Advantage: Tie

Special Teams: North Carolina’s kicker, Garyson Atkins, is 7 for 12 this fall with a long of 51-yards. Conversely, Jonathan Doerer is 12 for 16 with a long of 48-yards.

I still expect Chris Tyree to turn a few kickoffs into touchdowns during his career. He has elite speed, and it will pay off at some point. Tyree’s opportunities have been limited because the Irish Defense has not given up many scores this season.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction:

Toughest game remaining on schedule. Both on the field and through recruiting, North Carolina is on the rise under Mack Brown. The Tar Heels have one of the best offenses in the country, but their defense gives up a lot of points. This program showed that they are capable of great things at home, and the Irish need to play a clean football game.

Injuries were a major surprise last week. The injuries are not ideal for the Irish, but I believe they can overcome the setbacks. Besides turnovers, Notre Dame looked like the #2 team in the country when they faced Boston College. The Irish running attack was one of the best in the country, and now that the passing game is flourishing, Notre Dame is certainly a playoff threat.

The Irish have continued to work on their weaknesses, and if they show up as they have the last few games, Notre Dame will take care of business on the road.

Prediction: Notre Dame 41 North Carolina 31

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