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Football

Head to Head: North Carolina vs. Notre Dame

| Friday, October 10, 2014

20140830, 20140830, Emily McConville, Football v. Rice, Notre Dame Stadium, The ObserverEmily McConville / The Observer
TAR HEELS PASSING

Junior quarterback Marquise Williams has been solid throwing the ball so far this season. The signal-caller has completed 61 percent of his passes for 1,083 yards and nine touchdowns and four interceptions. Williams posted a strong performance against Clemson, tossing four touchdowns part of a 345-yard day.

Backup quarterback Mitch Trubisky has seen steady action in each of North Carolina’s first five games.

Junior Quinshad Davis and sophomore Ryan Switzer headline the receiving corps and both boast big-play ability. But Notre Dame’s secondary has been impressive and has continued to improve. It’s difficult to see the Tar Heels repeatedly breaking off big plays against Cody Riggs, Cole Luke, Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate and company.

Assuming the Irish can limit the big plays, North Carolina doesn’t figure to be overly productive through the air, especially if Brian VanGorder dials up a steady stream of pressure to rattle Williams the way VanGorder did to Syracuse quarterback Terrel Hunt.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

 

TAR HEELS RUSHING

There’s certainly talent in North Carolina’s backfield. Sophomore T.J. Logan, junior Romar Morris and freshman Elijah Hood have all contributed throughout the first five games of the season.

Logan’s most productive day was a nine-carry, 45-yard showing in the season opener against Liberty, but he and Hood offer promise. A former Notre Dame commitment, Hood burst onto the scene against Clemson with 13 rushes for 71 yards a touchdown — the best performance by a Tar Heel running back this season.

Williams, in fact, is maybe North Carolina’s most dangerous runner. The junior is one of just nine players in the country leading his squad in both passing and rushing yards. Williams rumbled a career-high 19 times for 94 yards against Virginia Tech on Saturday. The Irish will have to keep close tabs on his ability outside of the pocket.

But Notre Dame has been stout against the run. Irish head coach Brian Kelly heaped praise on the front seven’s work against the run this week. Notre Dame only allowed 47 rushing yards to Stanford on Saturday. They should handle the Tar Heels on the ground.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

 

TAR HEELS  OFFENSIVE  COACHING

First-year assistant head coach for offense Seth Littrell has molded a productive offense out of a lot of young and athletic pieces — 35 points against Clemson stands out — but he’ll have to combat VanGorder’s multiple looks and heavy pressures.

Expect VanGorder to focus on confusing Williams. If the first five games are any indication, VanGorder and the Irish should be all set.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

 

TAR HEELS SPECIAL TEAMS

Kicker Nick Weiler hasn’t had to do a whole lot for a North Carolina offense that has done a good job of converting red-zone opportunities into six points. The sophomore is four-for-four on field-goal tries, and he hasn’t missed an extra point.

Senior punter Tommy Hibbard has done his job in the punting game, and Switzer is one of the most dangerous return men in the country. The 5-foot-10 jitterbug tied the NCAA record last season with five punt-return touchdowns as a freshman — making Kelly’s Wes Welker comparison even more appropriate (Welker’s eight punt-return touchdowns are tied for the NCAA career record).

Notre Dame kept Stanford speedster Ty Montgomery in check last weekend. Will the Irish be as successful Saturday?

         EDGE: NORTH CAROLINA

 

IRISH PASSING

Despite the less-than-stellar performance against Stanford on Saturday, Everett Golson is still Everett Golson. The Heisman Trophy candidate still found a way to drive the Irish down the field and still found a way to win the game with his fourth-down scoring strike to Ben Koyack.

His top receivers, Will Fuller, Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson, were held without receptions in the first half, but expect that trio to perform in what are expected to be more favorable weather conditions Saturday.

Three weeks ago in Greenville, North Carolina, East Carolina shredded UNC’s pass defense to the tune of 446 yards and four touchdowns. East Carolina notched eight passing plays of at least 20 yards.

The Irish seem prepared to torch the Tar Heels through the air, but Golson will have to be smart against a defense with a propensity to force turnovers.

Still, Golson excels at keeping plays alive and making throws downfield. If and when his targets get behind the Tar Heel secondary, Golson could surge for big plays.

     EDGE: NOTRE DAME

 

IRISH RUSHING

Kelly somewhat tempered the criticism of the rushing game Tuesday, saying he thought the backs and offensive line fared pretty well against a strong Stanford front seven.

Still, it’s difficult to look past the Irish struggles in the ground game. Senior running back Cam McDaniel and sophomore running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston simply have not found much traction through the first five games, and the offensive line is still developing its chemistry after the reshuffling that took place during the bye week.

However, this could be the week for the Notre Dame rushing attack to get going. The Tar Heels have surrendered an average of 186.2 yards per game to their first five opponents. But though Virginia Tech racked up 171 rushing yards Saturday against North Carolina, the Hokies only mustered 3.0 yards per carry.

The Irish will try to avoid a similar fate saturday, but they haven’t given reason for much confidence thus far.

     EDGE: NORTH CAROLINA

 

IRISH OFFENSIVE COACHING

After a particularly strong game of play-calling two weeks ago against Syracuse, the weather made it difficult to judge the Notre Dame offense Saturday against Stanford. What was apparent, however, was Kelly’s commitment to the running game. Kelly and the Irish will have to stimulate the ground attack at some point this season in an attempt to balance the offense.

Tar Heels defensive coaches Dan Disch and Vic Koenning have a daunting task in preparing a young, athletic and vulnerable North Carolina defense for arguably the most potent offense it will have faced to this point in the season.

   EDGE: EVEN

 

IRISH SPECIAL TEAMS

Notre Dame’s special teams had a rocky performance against Stanford between the two botched field-goal bids and the lack of a return game. Kelly expressed complete confidence this week in holder Hunter Smith, and expect Smith, Kyle Brindza and the rest of the field-goal unit to bounce back.

Brindza excelled in keeping the ball from Montgomery, but Switzer presents whole new set of challenges on punts.

After a strong start to the season returning punts and kicks, Notre Dame would benefit from some added juice in those areas.

      EDGE: EVEN

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