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Head to Head: Notre Dame vs. UNC

| Friday, October 29, 2021

As Notre Dame prepares for a second straight night game, the Observer’s sports staff broke down the head-to-head matchup between the Irish and the UNC Tar Heels.

Notre Dame Passing

The offensive line seems to be finding their feet and gaining some balance under them as they move through the season. Because of that, offensive coordinator Tommy Rees has been able to use Jack Coan to the best of his ability. With all of the different capabilities at wide receiver, Avery Davis getting open, Kevin Austin making contested catches and Lorenzo Styles’ speed to name a few, their success is within reach. Even more so, when you consider the number of big plays the Tar Heels have let through in their last few games, Notre Dame easily takes this one. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Rushing 

The Irish run game has looked the best it has so far this season in the past two games against Virginia Tech and USC. The offensive line seems to have finally found a groove with Joe Alt, Andrew Kristofic, Jarrett Patterson, Cain Madden and Josh Lugg receiving significant playing time. Against a UNC defense that has struggled mightily so far this season, the offensive line should continue to find the same success it has found as of late. Irish running back Kyren Williams has been an absolute beast the last two games for the Irish as well, totaling over 200 yards on the ground and four total touchdowns over those games. Look for the Irish run game to continue to have success on Saturday.

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Coaching

Tommy Rees’ job has gotten a whole lot easier now that the Irish offensive line has shown it can consistently protect the quarterback. With Jack Coan standing comfortably in the pocket, Rees can dial up everything in the playbook to keep the UNC defense honest. Coan’s longest completion against the Trojans was 29 yards, but expect him to take even more deep shots. Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy should be involved often in this contest, and this UNC secondary will struggle to cover both players. On top of that, Kyren Williams is hitting his stride for the Irish, and Rees will make sure to keep him involved. With an offense that’s finally balanced behind a revamped offensive line, Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator can call his game that controls the clock and keeps the Irish ahead of the chains.  

EDGE: Notre Dame

Notre Dame Offensive Special Teams

Jay Bramblett and Jonathan Doerer are both more than reliable in their roles. With Chris Tyree out on the receiving end, though, UNC’s special teams defense brings this edge even. UNC has had two official blocked punts. They would have had a third, except Miami punter Louis Hedley’s skill allowed him to adjust and avoid the oncoming defender. That being said, Bramblett is not unskilled. He will just have to watch out for a highly skilled punt defense and his guards will have to make time for him. 

EDGE: Even

UNC Passing

The passing game has arguably been the strongest aspect of the Tar Heels’ game this season. Quarterback Sam Howell has already thrown for 18 touchdowns on the year, with 8 of them going to leading receiver Josh Downs. The Irish defense will surely have their work cut out for them with DJ Brown playing in place of an injured Kyle Hamilton, who has been the backbone of this Irish defense so far this year. The Irish corners have struggled at times too, so the edge definitely goes to the Tar Heels in this one.

EDGE: UNC

UNC Rushing

UNC entered the year expecting to have a pass-heavy attack behind top NFL draft prospect Sam Howell. But running back Ty Chandler, plus the evolving dual-threat capabilities of Howell, have developed a solid ground attack. The Tar Heels are averaging 199 rushing yards per game, with about 150 of those coming from Chandler and Howell. They’re a tough assignment for a Notre Dame defense that has improved but continues to struggle against dual-threat quarterbacks and effective running backs. After USC’s Keaontay Ingram ran for 138 yards last week, it’s hard not to give the edge to UNC, with an equally capable back and a dangerous quarterback.

EDGE: UNC

UNC Offensive Coaching

Phil Longo has been plagued by repetitive mistakes from his offense all season. Longo said in a press conference that his focus over their bye week remained in breaking their pattern of mistakes. The Irish will be able to pick those mistakes apart if they’re not gone, especially when it comes to waiting for pre-snap mistakes. Then they’ll be able to take advantage of the long fields the Tar Heels face and close down on them. Marcus Freeman and his defense have been on the up and up so he should be able to shake Longo’s comfort. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

UNC Offensive Special Teams

UNC has returned nine kickoffs and eleven punts this season, but none with particular effectiveness. The Tar Heels have returned kickoffs for an average of 18.1 yards per return, while Josh Downs has returned punts for under 11 yards per effort. As a kicking unit, UNC is lackluster, having converted just six of ten field goal attempts. Notre Dame excelled last weekend in preventing touchdowns, and if this one comes down to a field goal battle, the Irish will like their chances. 

EDGE: Notre Dame

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