Kenan Stadium will be host to one of the most important games in college football this week and one of the biggest in recent memory for the Tar Heel football program. In what is scheduled to be the Tar Heels third ranked-vs.-ranked matchup this season at home, the Tar Heels will look to take down the Irish for just the second time in program history and keep themselves in the race to head to Charlotte for the ACC Championship Game. In order to accomplish all of this, they must be able to put it all together in all three phases of the game, something they haven’t been able to do often this season.
This 2020 team has put so much pressure on it’s offense to perform this season and the offense has answered the call almost every single time. Quarterback Sam Howell is coming off of one of the greatest single game performances by a quarterback in ACC history and has seemed to shake off any worries of a sophomore slump to seal his case as one of the gunslingers in the country. Dyami Brown is continuing to fly under the radar nationally, despite having another huge season as a primary deep threat, while also evolving into a more complete receiver as the year has gone on. Dazz Newsome has had his struggles getting open so far this season, but last week’s performance against Wake Forest shows just how dangerous he can be. Beau Corrales is still working his way back from an injury, but the deepest unit on this Tar Heel football team has seen both Khafre Brown and Emery Simmons step up in his absence. The stars of this offense all season, however, have been the running backs. The combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams have drawn legitimate comparisons to the combination of the Reggie Bush-Lendale White tandem, arguably the best in college football history and Williams has drawn some eyes from national outlets while leading the country in total touchdowns. The Tar Heels offensive line has had their moments of inconsistency, but when the unit has needed to step up, they have for the most part. Brian Anderson’s return in this one would help, but Quiron Johnson has been stepping up when he’s had to all season.
The defense has become a major concern for this team as the year has gone along, but the bye week might be just what they needed to get their season back on track. After a promising start to the season, the front four has fallen on some hard times in recent weeks as they’ve worn down. The most discouraging play has come from the veteran edge rushers in Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper, who have disappeared in these past couple of weeks, leading to opportunities for Chris Collins, Des Evans and Kaimon Rucker, all of whom have shown flashes at those spots when they’ve gotten their true reps. Rotation needs to be a bigger part of this team as a whole, but especially on that defensive line. The linebacking corps has had some of their weaknesses exposed this season with the struggles of the defensive line, but Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel still continue to form a strong duo in the middle of the Tar Heel defense. As for the secondary, returning even one of the two between Storm Duck and Kyler McMichael for this Saturday would be huge for a secondary that has been picked apart because of the lack of
pressure and injuries adding up. Trey Morrison is the only member of the current starting secondary to even play in every game this season, let alone start. Don Chapman and Cam’Ron Kelly have both had their growing pains at safety and DeAndre Hollins was holding his own up until last week where he was torn apart by Wake Forest. If Duck or McMichael can return that would allow him to move back to more of the rotational role that he is used to.
Special teams were a disaster for the bulk of the season, but have steadied itself in recent weeks. Punter Ben Kiernan has had a strong sophomore campaign and Jonathan Kim has been a fantastic weapon as the team’s kickoff specialist. Dazz Newsome has shown some improvement from a year ago as the team’s punt returner, but Michael Carter has struggled to make a major impact in the kick return game. Kicker Grayson Atkins has been inconsistent, especially from beyond 40 yards, but with the offense being as efficient as it has in recent weeks, his impact has been limited to extra points nearly exclusively.
The Fighting Irish are having a season for the ages in 2020, headlined by a huge win over the Clemson Tigers back on November 7th. Ian Book is putting together a tremendous senior campaign and has made the Irish one of the most consistent offenses in the country. Kyren Williams has had a breakout sophomore season and Chris Tyree and C’Bo Flemister have combined with him to create one of the nation’s top rushing attacks. The wide receiving corps isn’t nearly as loaded as it has been in the past, but Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek have both had significant impacts so far this season. The Fighting Irish offensive line is one of the best in the country this season, led by seniors Liam Eichenburg and Robert Hainsey. Tommy Kraemer will miss this weekend’s game, though, which will hurt the Irish.
On the defensive side of the football, the Fighting Irish are led by the group up front with guys like Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji headlining a great rotation of talent there. At linebacker, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah is one of the most well-rounded linebackers in the country and Drew White has been solid in the middle. The secondary is probably the weakest unit on this defense, but they’ve still been able to hold for most of the season.
The special teams unit for the Irish hasn’t been perfect, but this is another sound unit on this team. Jonathan Doerer has missed a field goal in four games this season, but still has a powerful leg that the coaching staff trusts. Jay Bramblett hasn’t been needed too often this season, but he has put up some decent numbers when he has been called upon. The return games have been up and down all season, especially the punt return game that had been so dangerous in the past few seasons.
Team Stats (rankings are amongst 127 FBS teams to play a game in 2020)
Off. PPG: 43.1 (10th)
Off. PYPG: 329.9 (11th)
Off. RYPG: 233.5 (T-14th)
Off. TYPG: 563.4 (4th)
Off. 3rd Down %: 48.9% (22nd)
Def. PPG: 30.8 (69th)
Def. PYPG: 261.8 (92nd)
Def. RYPG: 151.8 (56th)
Def. TYPG: 413.6 (68th)
Def. 3rd Down %: 38.8 (52nd)
Sacks: 27.0 (T-8th)
Interceptions: 7 (T-32nd)
Turnover Margin: 0 (T-60th)
Off. PPG: 37.6 (22nd)
Off. PYPG: 228.7 (74th)
Off. RYPG: 233.5 (T-14th)
Off. TYPG: 462.2 (24th)
Off. 3rd Down %: 53.6% (7th)
Def. PPG: 16.6 (11th)
Def. PYPG: 219.0 (43rd)
Def. RYPG: 85.1 (4th)
Def. TYPG: 304.1 (9th)
Def. 3rd Down %: 26.0% (5th)
Sacks: 21.0 (T-25th)
Interceptions: 5 (T-55th)
Turnover Margin: +4 (T-20th)
Keys To The Game
Come Prepared for a Physical Game
This will be the most physical matchup that the Tar Heels will face all season and they have to be prepared for it. The week off beforehand will definitely help, but this is a game that the Tar Heels have to be prepared and motivated for from the beginning.
Control the Line of Scrimmage
This will be far from an easy task considering that the Fighting Irish have one of the best wrench combinations in the country. Despite that, the Tar Heels will have to find a way to win the war on the line of scrimmage or they stand no chance in this one. On the offensive side of things, the offensive line stepped up against some of the more productive defensive lines that it has faced this season. The same thing can not be said of the defensive line, though, who will have to make it happen in this one if they want to pull the upset.
Continue to Execute Offensively
With plenty of uncertainty around what the defense will bring to the table in this one, the Tar Heels are looking for a big performance from once again for the offense. This offense has had no problem shouldering the load, but this is the best defense that they’ve faced so far this season by a longshot. This is a historically great offense, though, so this is an offense that is more than capable of getting the job done.
OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), Ty Murray (undisclosed), Ethan West (undisclosed)
QUEST- Brian Anderson (undisclosed), Beau Corrales (upper body), Storm Duck (lower body), Kyler McMichael (undisclosed)
OUT- Jayson Ademilola (knee), Kevin Austin Jr. (foot), Tommy Kraemer (appendix), Brandon Lenzy (hamstring), Paul Moala (achilles), Jarrett Patterson (foot), Jahmir Smith (undisclosed)
PROB- C’Bo Flemister (leg), Kyren Williams (undisclosed)
Projected Starting Lineups
Tar Heels Offense