Notre Dame Football Primer: #11 Irish host the North Carolina Tar Heels

The Fighting Irish look to improve to 7-1 as Mack Brown and the North Carolina Tar Heels visit South Bend.

It’s another primetime showdown at Notre Dame Stadium. After defeating the USC Trojans, Brian Kelly faces a formidable North Carolina football team led by quarterback Sam Howell. This may not be a top 25 matchup, but the Tar Heels have a lethal offense and momentum off last week’s victory over Miami. Although playoff hopes are small, a victory in this matchup could get the Irish back into the top-10.

Essential Game Info:

  • Game Time: Saturday, October 30th at 7:30 PM ET on NBC
  • Location: Notre Dame Stadium, South Bend, Indiana
  • Matchup History: The Irish are 19-1 all-time against the North Carolina Tar Heels (Last Meeting 2020: Notre Dame won 31 to 17)
  • Current Odds: Notre Dame -3.5

Weather Forecast

The current forecast for GameDay shows a 20% chance of rain with a high of 57 degrees and a low of 46.

North Carolina Details:

  • Conference: ACC (Coastal Division)
  • Head Coach: Mack Brown
  • 2021 Record: 4-3 (3-3)
  • 2020 Record: 8-4 (7-3)

North Carolina Storylines:

An underwhelming 4-3 season for Mack Brown’s Tar Heels. This game was circled on the schedule before the season, and Notre Dame even set this matchup for a primetime spot over other opponents like Cincinnati. North Carolina was a preseason top-15 team and played in a New Year’s Six Bowl game last year. I am not saying the Tar Heels cannot pull off an upset because this has been a bizarre season, but many had Sam Howell as one of the Heisman favorites heading into this fall.

Head Coach Mack Brown has been one of the best coaches this century in college football and will be eager to get a victory in South Bend.

Key Tar Heel Players. Quarterback Sam Howell headlines the North Carolina Offense. This fall, Howell is 129 for 211 (61%) with 18 passing touchdowns and six interceptions. The Tar Heel quarterback is a dual-threat and has 96 rushing attempts for 494 yards (5.1 yards per carry) and five rushing scores.

Howell’s favorite target is wide receiver Josh Downs, who has 60 receptions for 837-yards and eight touchdowns. However, it appears the Irish Defense will face their 3rd elite receiver of the season. The North Carolina rushing attack is led by running back Ty Chandler, with 106 attempts for 588 rushing yards (5.5 yards per carry) and seven rushing touchdowns.

Notre Dame Storylines:

The Irish Offense improved against USC. On Saturday, Jack Coan went 20 for 28 with 189 passing yards, one touchdown, and one interception (50/50 ball). Possibly the most important statistic of the game, Coan was sacked only once by the Trojans. While Kyren Williams tallied 25 carries for 138-yards and two touchdowns, he continues to be the heart of the offense.

Tyler Buchner went 2 for 2 with 24 passing yards through the air. On the ground, he had three carries for 11-yards and a rushing touchdown. Buchner needs more reps for next season, but the Irish are 6-1 and still have a slight chance of making the playoffs. For now, that is the main priority.

Red Zone efficiency needs improvement. Jack Coan’s inability to scramble undoubtedly hurts inside the 20-yard line. The first drive of the game halted on the USC 17-yard line (missed catch), and Bo Bauer’s interception return to the Trojan’s 4-yard line led to only a field goal.

If the Irish want to finish 11-1, with quality opponents left on the schedule, those drives may come back to haunt them.

The Notre Dame Defense will be without safety Kyle Hamilton. Brian Kelly said that Kye Hamilton “Pinched fat pad on the knee, no structural damage. Prognosis is really good.” Coach Kelly has ruled Kyle Hamilton out this weekend but does not think it will be long-term. USC was able to score two touchdowns in the second half with Hamilton off the field.

Yes, the Trojans had Drake London, but Kyle Hamilton is a game wrecker on defense, and the secondary is entirely different with the projected top-five pick in the 2022 NFL Draft roaming the gridiron.

Head-to-Head Matchups:

Notre Dame Offense vs. North Carolina Defense: Notre Dame Football has averaged 31-points per game, while Mack Brown’s Tar Heels have allowed 29-points per contest. However, the Irish Offense looked stable against the USC Trojans and could have scored even more points. Meanwhile, North Carolina surrendered 42-points to Miami last week and 35-points to Florida State a week prior.

Tommy Rees and the Notre Dame Offense have the advantage.

Advantage: Notre Dame

North Carolina Offense vs. Notre Dame Defense: The North Carolina Tar Heels have scored 37-points per game, while Notre Dame has allowed 23-points per contest. Sam Howell and the offense have been putting up a lot of points all season; they have not been the critical issue. Conversely, Marcus Freeman’s unit held a quality Trojan’s Offense to 17-points last week.

I believe that even without Kyle Hamilton, the Irish still have a narrow advantage in this category.

Advantage: Notre Dame

Special Teams: North Carolina’s kicking game is headlined by Grayson Atkins, who is 6 for 10 on the season, with a long of 51-yards. On the other hand, Jonathan Doerer is 9 for 13 with a long of 51-yards.

There is no clear advantage in this matchup.

Advantage: Tie

My Prediction:

Before my prediction, I want to say if the environment is anything like last weekend, this will be a significant home-field advantage for the Irish. The crowd was energized, and the light displays were phenomenal.

Houston Griffith and DJ Brown will have to step up in the absence of Kyle Hamilton this weekend. Marcus Freeman’s defense looked strong last week but will face another major test against Sam Howell. The key to a victory will be controlling the big plays and holding the Tar Heels in the red zone.

Meanwhile, the Notre Dame Offense may have looked better than they have all season. If the Irish can capitalize in the red zone this week, it will be difficult to stop this unit with so many weapons. Staying on schedule will be vital for the offense this week. Jack Coan was only sacked once against the Trojans, which helped the offense with more manageable third downs.

I have the Irish winning by two scores.

Prediction: Notre Dame 38 North Carolina 24

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  1. Me and my boys are heading out for the game from Philly. Hope they have the light show again!!! GO IRISH! 🍀☘️🍀

    1. A timeless tradition in America’s heartland. People arriving from all over the country….by automobile, by bus, by private plane. They come to picturesque ND stadium on a crisp Fall Saturday.
      It’s gameday! and they’ve all come for one reason….

      To watch the stadium lights blinking to loud music for a few minutes.

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