Frankie V’s Prediction: Can Notre Dame Win Without Kyle Hamilton?

While the Irish must play without their All-American, they face a defense that shouldn't put up much resistance to the Irish offense.

Notre Dame looks to improve to 7-1 on the season on Saturday night under the lights of Notre Dame Stadium against North Carolina while playing without their best player, All-American Kyle Hamilton. The Tar Heels are one of the most disappointing teams in the country after starting the season in the top-10 and limping into the contest with a 4-3 record, but they still have Sam Howell at quarterback, and the Irish won’t have their All-American.

What Worries Me This Week

Replacing Kyle Hamilton

Notre Dame played the 2nd half of last year’s win over North Carolina without Hamilton following his ejection for targeting, so the Irish have experience slowing down Howell and the Tar Hell offense without Hamilton. The difference between last year and this year is North Carolina will have an entire week to gameplan around the Irish not having Hamilton, not just half-time as they did a year ago.

DJ Brown has played very well this year in limited action after his brutal missed tackle against Florida State, but replacing Kyle Hamilton is a tall task. Marcus Freeman will have to cook up something good this week to slow down Howell and the Tar Heels. The good news for Notre Dame is that North Carolina’s offense is not nearly as prolific as it was a year ago, and the Irish did alright then, albeit with a different defensive coordinator.

No matter how good Brown or any other safety has played, it’s always a concern when you have to play without your best player.

Sam Howell’s Running Ability

North Carolina is calling a lot more designed runs for Sam Howell this year – somewhat out of necessity. Officially, Howell has 494 yards rushing, but that includes a lot of lost yardage from sacks – UNC has given up 27 sacks for a loss of 166. Notre Dame struggled with mobile quarterbacks this year, including just three weeks ago on the road in Blacksburg. Braxton Burmeister converted multiple third downs with his legs against the Irish defense, including that critical third and 15 that he scored on.

Combine Howell’s newfound running skills with the loss of Hamilton this week, and there’s some reason to be concerned about North Carolina’s ability to put up points on the Irish tomorrow.

Sustainability of the “new” offense

Notre Dame found something last week with their new tempo offense with Jack Coan at the helm, but how sustainable is that without the threat of a vertical passing game? Notre Dame still took some shots downfield against USC, but they weren’t successful on any of them, and Coan has struggled to push the ball downfield over the last several weeks.

I’d expect North Carolina to try and clog up passing lanes and dare Notre Dame to complete some passes downfield. The UNC defense is bad, and with some of the weapons, Notre Dame has, the Irish should still be able to complete a bunch of those short passes, but will they be able to string together as many long, sustained drives again this week? I am a little skeptical unless the Irish offense can hit some shot plays.

What Doesn’t Worry Me This Week

The Notre Dame offensive line

It took a lot longer than anyone would have liked, but the Irish offensive line is starting to play well. With some continuity from week to week, the line has stabilized. As a result, the right side of the line, which hasn’t changed personnel, has settled in. Josh Lugg and Cain Maddens struggled at the start of the season but have quietly turned in quality performances the last couple of weeks.

I still worry a little bit about the line’s ability to create a significant push in the run game with Coan in the game since Coan poses no threat to ever keep the ball. I don’t worry nearly as much about their ability to give Coan and Buchner time to pass when they drop back, though.

North Carolina coming off the bye week

A lot has been made about North Carolina coming off of a bye week and having additional time to prepare for Notre Dame. Well, Wisconsin had a bye before playing Notre Dame. So did Virginia Tech and USC. However, it didn’t result in any of them beating the Irish. Cincinnati had a bye before handing Notre Dame its only loss of the season. Still, that outcome had more to do with the mistake the Irish made versus anything new that Cincy sprung on the Irish because they had an extra week to prepare.

Notre Dame has played well against teams coming off of bye weeks in recent years and has won 37 straight games over unranked opponents in general.

Notre Dame cooking up something to limit the damage Howell does

While there is reason to be concerned about what Sam Howell could do against the Irish, I feel like Marcus Freeman will be able to scheme something up that slows them down enough to limit the damage. It just might frustrate the hell out of us in the process.

Last week it felt like USC was marching up and down the field at times and that Drake London was unstoppable. But the Trojans scored just three points over the first three quarters, and the Irish held USC to their lowest point total of the season. So while it was frustrating at the time, it was effective in its results.

Players to Watch This Week

  • Braden Lenzy – He finally got his jet sweep last week. Can we get some deep shots called for him now? Notre Dame is under-utilizing his speed right now.
  • Jordan Botelho – Brian Kelly gave a somewhat cryptic answer to a question on Botelho this week that hinted he might see the field more soon
  • Kevin Austin – He’s had some brutal drops over the last few games, but it also feels like he’s on the verge of a monster game soon too. North Carolina’s defense might be the perfect opportunity for that
  • Chris Tyree – It sounds like he is a game time decision after missing last week. If he plays, this feels like the week he finally rips off a long run this year
  • Tyler Buchner – Will we see an expansion of his package/snap count this week?
  • Isaiah Pryor – He played a lot against Purdue when Notre Dame used a lot of dime looks and they could do the same this week
  • Tariq Bracy – He got a game ball last week and will be called on a lot again this week.

Prediction Time

I started this week feeling bad about this game, but as the week has progressed and I’ve done a bit more research into the Tar Heels, this one no longer feels as potentially scary. Outside of Sam Howell, there isn’t a lot scary on this Tar Heel team, and Notre Dame is just starting to play its best football. I expect the game to be close at half-time but for the Irish to pull away in the second half and win relatively comfortably.

Notre Dame 38, North Carolina 24

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  1. Still not sure why Freeman came with all the hype because it’s not warranted at this point, IMO. This has nothing to do either that “they are not his recruits.” Still a lot of slip ups going on with this team.

  2. Howell is Lamar Jackson 2.0. You can’t stop him. You can only hope to contain him. Tackling him is a physical impossibility (if you play for ND).

  3. The sieve D rears its ugly head, again.

    The O better plan on scoring at least 10 more points or ND will lose this one!

    I didn’t realize ND re-hired Vangorder.

  4. Terrible red zone O again!

    Why is Buchner not in there?!

    Reese is brain dead. Should’ve put the game away there!

    Thank God, for K. Williams and the refs deciding to throw a flag on a couple of holds by the O line on that game-changing run.

    This is just not a very complete team. The D is weak. The O struggles in the red zone. The STs aren’t that special. The coaching is what it is.

  5. The defense is doing everything in their power not to sack Howell. It’s the one thing they’ve been truly successful at this season. Linebackers are soft and the secondary doesn’t know what it’s doing.

  6. What legitimate playoff-seeking team’s fansite would post an article posing the question:
    “Can our team, without just one defensive player, beat this 4-3 team at home?”

    No need examining the uncomfortable implications of such a question…Frank’s analysis concludes “YES!”

  7. Notre Dame 37-27. Jack Coan plays well against a terrible defense and we see very little of Buchner. It will be Coan running the offense the rest of the year. Kelly gets a Gatorade bath at end of game by some overzealous O-lineman and gets his nose broken in the process. Must watch TV.

  8. The entire game will be played in the mid to low 50 degree range …no rain, but there could be a 7 to 10 mph wind in somebody’s face quarter by quarter. This wind won’t effect short throws or field goals, but might effect long ones.
    It will be from the north…creating a choice between heading into the wind in Q4 and toward the student body, or with the wind but away from the students. I’d eat the wind and take the students, but with a stronger wind than forecasted, maybe not.

    BGC 77 82

    1. Taken out of context, “I’d eat the wind and take the students,” is one of the better all time quotes on here.
      Let’s go Brandon!

    2. Allelujah, Bruce!
      The true sign of a championship football program, everything so tightly buttoned down that the only issue left as a possible factor is weather.
      And even that is only a concern when faced with the very stiffest of competition. Like UNC.

      Saban will arrange for moles to attend any Kelly coaching camps this summer.

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