Notre Dame returns to action this afternoon on a rare Friday afternoon matinee for their last major test of the season against #19 North Carolina. The Irish arecoming off a bye week, but despite the rest, they’ll be playing down a couple of starters. After today, the Irish have just a couple of tuneups on the schedule, but until then the dynamic Tar Heel offense posses a major threat for Notre Dame’s plans of a perfect regular season.
Notre Dame needs its ground game today
One of the best ways to slow down an explosive offense is to keep the ball out of their hands. Even with two starters out on the offensive line – Jarrett Patterson and Tommy Kraemer – Notre Dame should be able to run the ball on a porous Tar Heel run defense. Opponents average 4.1 yards per carry on North Carolina compared to an average of just 2.9 ypc by the Notre Dame defense.
This is the kind of game tailor-made for Notre Dame to run the ball, control the clock, and frustrate the North Carolina offense by keeping them off the field for long periods. That was Notre Dame’s approach with Louisville, and they dominated the time of possession even if the scoreboard frustrated us all because of missed opportunities by the Irish offense.
If Notre Dame deploys a similar game plan but is more efficient in their execution, every Notre Dame fan should be happy. Kyren Williams and C’bo Flemister were banged up a bit two weeks ago but should be fine for today. Both backs, along with Chris Tyree, should eat today.
Ian Book might not have pretty stats today, and that’s okay
If Notre Dame goes run-heavy today, Ian Book might not have gaudy numbers today, and it is perfectly OK. Book isn’t trying to win the Heisman today; he’s trying to get Notre Dame to 9-0 and past their last big hurdle for a perfect regular season.
Notre Dame fans love to compare Book to Phil Jurkovec so inevitably some will point to Jurkovec’s 300+ yards against North Carolina earlier this year, but if Book throws for less than 200 and Notre Dame wins, that is all that matters today.
Book has been playing great over the last few games so I wouldn’t be surprised if he did end up with a monster game should Rees and Kelly choose to air it out. The Tar Heels defense hasn’t been able to stop anyone, so the Irish should be able to do whatever they want today.
Will Braden Lenzy get on the field?
Brian Kelly said earlier this week that Braden Lenzy could be back sooner rather than later, but it’s still unclear if he’ll play today or if he’ll just make the trip. Lenzy’s balky hamstring has been problematic since the summer and his speed has been missed in this offense. It’s really been the only missing link at this point. If he is healthy enough to play today, it will be interesting to see how much, if at all Lenzy plays,
Having Lenzy healthy and available for a potential ACC Championship game rematch with Clemson would give the Irish offense a much different look than the one that put up 47 points on the Tigers earlier this month.
Irish defense will surrender points, don’t freak out
While North Carolina’s defense is bad, their offense is elite. They will score points today even though the Notre Dame defense is one of the best they’ll see all year. UNC is averaging over 40 points a game this season and nearly 50 a game over the last three contests.
With explosive wide receivers and an elite quarterback, look for Notre Dame to play a much more bend/don’t break brand of defense today than we saw versus Clemson when they put their corners on an island at times. The key will be to come up with a turnover or two – something the defense has struggled with – and to force North Carolina to settle for field goals.
This is the kind of game that it doesn’t matter if Sam Howell puts up 400 yards so long as the Irish defense keeps the points down. If the Irish defense holds North Carolian to under 30 today, that will be a big accomplishment.
Admitingly, I have not had as much time to tink about this one as I’d like with Thanksgiving prep and all, but the more I’ve thought about it since dinner ended last night, the more I am thinking this will not be a high scoring, shootout like many think it will. The over/under on this one is 66.5 and I think it’ll come in below that.
We’ve seen Notre Dame commit to the running game in situations like this this year and North Carolina just doesn’t have the defense to slow down Notre Dame’s rush attack. I expect the Irish to limit possessions, control the clock, and grindout a win in the end.
Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 24