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UNC head coach Mack Brown ready for top-25 matchup

| Friday, November 27, 2020

When asked whether he was more worried about facing off against Notre Dame’s offense or defense, North Carolina head coach Mack Brown responded, “Yes. I’m concerned about both.”

The Tar Heels are sitting at 6-2 on the year and are essentially out of playoff contention. They are coming into this game with absolutely nothing to lose. And that’s a great spot to be in if you’re facing off against the No. 2-ranked team in the country. The Tar Heels are ranked No. 25 in the AP Poll — with the College Football Playoff committee being a bit more generous with a No. 19 ranking — but they are on the outside looking in. Brown understands this better than anyone. 

“Should be a fun game, should be a great game,”  Brown said. “I know our guys are really looking forward to it and Notre Dame is national. It gives us a chance to see where we fit and to see if we can start being in some conversations.” 

The bright spot of this Tar Heels team, and the part that is almost certainly keeping them in the reach of those conversations, is the offense. Led by sophomore quarterback Sam Howell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo, the Tar Heels have brought a fast-paced, high scoring offense into Chapel Hill. Howell isn’t their only threat either. The Tar Heels have two top-10 rushers in the country in junior Javonte Williams and senior Michael Carter. Both average over 100 yards per game and are on track to have 1000+ yard rushing seasons. This will prove to be a test for the Irish (8-0, 7-0 ACC), who are ranked first in the ACC in scoring defense and fifth in the country against the run. 

Notre Dame’s defense is giving up just 85.1 rushing yards per game while Williams and company are putting up an impressive 233.5 yards per contest — a figure that is identical to the Irish rushing offense led by sophomore Kyren Williams and junior C’Bo Flemister. 

Brown recognizes the importance of the ground game, especially in this particular matchup.

“They’re gonna line up and just run it right at us, and it’s a huge challenge for our guys. Again, in the two games we lost, we didn’t run the ball very well. It’s the only two games this year where we did not beat the other team in rushing yards.” Brown said. “They’re obviously going to look at those two games and try to make us throw it, so then you’ve got to run it well enough to protect.”

John Quackenbos | Boston College Athletics
Irish sophomore running back Kyren Williams runs for yards after contact during Notre Dame’s 45-31 win over Boston College on Nov. 14. Williams leads an Irish running game averaging 233.5 yards per contest and has gone for over 100 yards rushing in four of eight games this season.

Brown, who coached at the University of Texas for nearly a decade, wasn’t shy about showing praise to Brian Kelly, and particularly his team this year. 

“Notre Dame, like Texas, is a high-profile job. It’s a great job but a difficult job and there is a tremendous amount of pressure everyday on you, and he has been there 10 years and I think this is his best team,” Brown said. “They do it right. They are bright kids and they are very, very well coached. They’re fun to watch because we all want to get to where they are right now.”

Brown also emphasized the importance of the bye week, something that will not be so much of an advantage as both teams were off last weekend. 

“More people are injured in bye week than any other time of year other than pre-season,” Brown said. “I think it’s because the players lose their attention span a little bit because they don’t have a game that weekend and people say, ‘This is a week we can go back and hit them because we don’t have a game so we don’t have to worry about them being fresh.’ What we’ve always done is work the young ones like bowl practice and been really physical with them, but the older ones, let them start working towards the next game — which obviously is Notre Dame here — but also let them get some rest.” 

Both teams will be rested coming into this matchup having just wrapped up finals and coming off of a bye week. Although Brown may not be accustomed to hosting top-25 matchups in the ACC, he is not overly concerned about the idea of hosting the second ranked team in the country. 

“The pressure is really on Notre Dame. This is a game that people don’t expect us to win; they’re wondering if we can hang in there so I told the guys, ‘give it your best shot,’” Brown said. “It’s a chance for us to find out who we are against a national team. If we aren’t where we need to be, we understand, we got a lot of work to do, we’ll keep working to get there. Then we’ll have another shot at a national game with a top-10 team with Miami in a couple of weeks.”

Seeing the most pressure on the Irish, Brown said he thinks Friday offers the Tar Heels an opportunity to prepare for their next ranked opponent as well as play a memorable game.

“Don’t go in there uptight and not play well and then look back and regret it — go have fun,” Brown said. “This is what you play for.”

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About Jimmy Ward

Jimmy is a senior at Holy Cross College, where he studies English and sports management. He is originally from Westfield, Indiana. Currently, Jimmy serves as an associate sports editor at The Observer. You can find him at @jimmyyward on Twitter.

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