Staff Predictions: Notre Dame vs. UNC
Colin Capece — Assistant Managing Editor
The Notre Dame offensive line was the key to the 31-16 victory over rival USC. That’s a sentence I never thought I would write after watching the Irish at the start of the season, but the unit without a doubt played its best game of the season on Saturday. With enough time to stand in the pocket and survey the defense, the immobile Jack Coan had his most efficient game since the opener against Florida State. When Notre Dame can keep its signal caller upright, this offense can dominate every opponent left on the schedule because its balanced offense will stay ahead of the chains. Kyren Williams also had his best game of the season against the Trojans, racking up 180 total yards and two touchdowns.
While the USC defense has been porous the entire season, the success in the passing game helped open more running lanes for Williams. Heading into another home game under the lights against UNC, the secondary is the primary concern for the Irish with Kyle Hamilton ruled out. Without their enforcer on the back end, the Irish let USC’s best wideout Drake London torch them for 15 catches and 171 yards. UNC’s Josh Downs could do the same against the Irish on Saturday if they don’t get to quarterback Sam Howell consistently. But the Tar Heels’ defense hasn’t looked much better, and I think the Irish offense that’s found a new identity will control the clock as it did against USC. The Tar Heels will make a late push, but it won’t be enough to overcome a Notre Dame team that will command the offensive line of scrimmage throughout.
Notre Dame 35, UNC 27
Mannion McGinley — Sports Editor
Four home games left: One down. Three to go. The Irish offense stepped up this weekend and it will have to step up once again against UNC, as the Tar Heels have not gone down often this season and definitely not without some points on the board. The main focus will have to be on the defensive line. Graduate student nose guard Kurt Hinish and the rest of the line will have to collapse on the pocket without allowing an escape route for Sam Howell because he will take it. With the success in the tackle box against VT and USC, though, that should be doable for the Irish.
If not quite on the same page, Tommy Rees, Jack Coan and the offensive line seem to be at least in the same chapter now — and that success should carry through to this weekend. While UNC has been able to put up quite a few points, they haven’t stopped many either and so as long as the Irish stay on the path they’ve set in the last two games, they should be able to match and then outperform the Tar Heels. This game will stay tight the whole way through and the Irish cannot afford any mistakes.
Notre Dame 35, UNC 25
Aidan Thomas — Sports Writer
Saturday was a relief. For the first time all season, the Irish enjoyed a stress-free victory. Notre Dame, even when their lead was cut to eight points, felt in control the entire time and they cruised past archrival USC. Now, the focus turns to UNC. The Tar Heels are arguably the most difficult opponent remaining, due partially to their high-octane offense and the timing for Notre Dame, as the Irish will be missing All-American Kyle Hamilton.
Quarterback Sam Howell is a bona fide dual-threat, averaging over 13 rushing attempts per game at 5.1 yards per game. His top playmakers are running back Ty Chandler and receiver Josh Downs, who have eight touchdowns apiece. The offense will certainly challenge a slightly depleted Irish defense, while the Tar Heels’ underperforming defense does have a few playmakers that could force the Irish into mistakes. I like Notre Dame in this one, but UNC’s high-powered offense will make it a little uncomfortable for the Irish throughout the game.
Notre Dame 33, UNC 27
Jimmy Ward — Associate Sports Editor
Well, it only took a home loss and a bye week, but we have finally endured a weekend of Notre Dame football (somewhat) comfortably and with minimal blood pressure spikes. A 31-16 win over a rival surely had this Notre Dame team excited, but they were back to business as usual just as quickly as they had sealed the victory.
Kyle Hamilton’s injury is obviously significant and you can’t bat an eye at the fact he will be sidelined against UNC and a more than likely first-round quarterback in Sam Howell, but the Irish defense showed us from the moment that Hamilton went down that they are fully competent without him. I think it will be up to Marcus Freeman and his defense yet again to put the game on ice and stop the Tar Heels’ air game. I am more than confident in the game plan of the whole coaching staff after what we saw last weekend and I’m expecting Notre Dame to notch their second genuinely decisive win of the year.
Notre Dame 28, UNC 17
Emily DeFazio — Associate Sports Editor
It was nice to have a home game where the fourth quarter was not filled with some kind of dread. Jack Coan posted a fairly productive game Saturday, and for the first time in a while, the offense seemed cohesive. The run game finally seemed to click with this group, with Kyren Williams having a standout night. However, as much success as there was on offense, the Irish defense lost a valuable asset in Kyle Hamilton for at least Saturday’s matchup against UNC. Given that Sam Howell is a potential first-round draftee, he could try to do some damage with this in mind. Regardless, the Irish will come away with this one, riding the high of a victorious rivalry game to compete against their next formidable opponent.
Notre Dame 30, UNC 24
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
Saturday was a great day to be a Notre Dame fan. While USC is definitely not a good football team, it always feels good to win a rivalry game against the Trojans. The Irish will now have their second home night game in a row against a UNC team that has been one of the biggest disappointments in college football so far this season. Despite their unimpressive 4-3 record, UNC still possesses plenty of talent on both sides of the football, and I expect them to challenge the Irish in many aspects of the football game on Saturday night.
The Irish will be without All-American safety Kyle Hamilton, which could be a problem as they try to stop Tar Heel wide receiver Josh Downs, who has over 800 receiving yards and eight touchdowns so far this season. Tar Heel quarterback Sam Howell is arguably the toughest quarterback the Irish have played so far this season as well, so Saturday will definitely be a challenge for the Irish secondary. On the other side of the football, the Irish should be able to find success behind a revamped offensive line. The Tar Heel defense has been atrocious this season. I expect Kyren Williams and the Irish run game to lead the Irish to victory on Saturday night.