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Barbour, Brooks and Bunting look for upset

Mike Gilloon | Friday, November 3, 2006

One look at Andre Barbour and some might wonder if North Carolina should be favored Saturday. The Tar Heels offensive tackle stands 6-foot-6, weighs 270 pounds and has been one bright spot on a Tar Heels team trudging through one of the worst seasons in program history.

They are giving up almost 33 points per game, haven’t beaten a Division I opponent this season and Tar Heels coach John Bunting has already been fired. So when it comes to trying new things, North Carolina doesn’t have much to lose.

That may explain why the Tar Heels chose to throw a pass to Barbour in a goal line situation last Saturday in their 24-17 loss to Wake Forest. And for at least once this season, something went right.

The massive Barbour snagged the 1-yard reception for the first touchdown of his career.

“I knew either I was going to catch it or I was going to drop it. And if I would’ve dropped it then it was going to be horrible,” Barbour said. “Catching it was amazing. It didn’t feel real for the first couple minutes.”

It might not feel real for Notre Dame fans Saturday if Barbour and the Tar Heels score several more touchdowns. North Carolina quarterbacks Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton have combined for just six scoring passes this season and the Tar Heels have just nine touchdowns on the ground, compared to 27 opponent rushing touchdowns. It isn’t a team most would expect to knock off the No. 10 Irish.

But Irish players say they feel differently.

“[The Tar Heels] can do anything they want and nothing worse is going to happen because it’s not like [Bunting] can get fired twice,” said Irish strong safety Tom Zbikowski. “Double passes, anything is going to go. So we have to be prepared for anything.”

That might mean being ready for hard hitting and the Tar Heels’ best effort of the season, according to Irish coach Charlie Weis.

“It’s pretty obvious by watching the Wake Forest game, that this team wasn’t only playing hard, I think they were trying all they could to try to win the game for [Bunting],” Weis said.

To keep the Tar Heels from winning Notre Dame’s second-to-last home game, Weis said the Irish must contain North Carolina’s top three receivers.

Sophomore Brooks Foster, a former basketball walk-on who played for the 2005 national champion Tar Heels, leads the team in receptions with 28 for 326 yards and one touchdown. The sophomore’s athleticism hasn’t been lost on Weis.

“Well, he entered 2006 with no receptions and all he’s done has become their leading receiver this year,” said Weis at his press conference Tuesday.

Weis was also impressed with the other two leading North Carolina pass catchers, Jesse Holley and Hakeem Nicks. The two have a combined 46 receptions for 694 yards and two touchdowns.

Besides the Tar Heels’ own offensive woes this season – the teams doesn’t have a player with more than one touchdown catch – their defense will have to keep a talented Notre Dame offense out of the end zone.

“This is probably going to be the best team we play all season,” Barbour said.

Bunting was similarly blunt.

“They are very, very, very good,” he said. “They don’t give you anything; you’ve got to earn it all.”

In preparing his squad for Saturday’s game, Bunting has stressed the tradition surrounding Notre Dame’s campus. He’s planned a team trip to the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown South Bend and told the players a bit about the game day atmosphere. An All-ACC linebacker for the Tar Heels from 1969-1971, Bunting’s squad played at Notre Dame in 1971, losing 16-0.

“I’ve been looking forward to [a return to Notre Dame Stadium] for a long time,” said Bunting, who had 20 tackles in that game. “It’s just disappointing we don’t have the record we’d like to have going into the game.”