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Heel Tough Blog: Notre Dame Preview

The Tar Heels look to turn the page on a lackluster start to the season on Saturday after a much-needed bye week that hopefully allowed this team to reset as they hit a home stretch that will contain three straight ranked matchups. That stretch will kick off in a place where the Tar Heels have never won before when they face Brian Kelly and the No. 11 Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend. The Tar Heels don’t necessarily have to win this one, but they need to at least show some signs of life after not showing much overall in the first half of the season.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The biggest thing that this Tar Heel team is in search of right now is consistency from each of the major units. On offense, it starts with finding help for Sam Howell and Josh Downs who have had to carry this offense for the majority of the season. If the team wants to get anything going, it all starts up front with an offensive line that was one of the most disappointing in all of college football in the first seven weeks of the season. Mack Brown said earlier in the week that Ed Montilus and William Barnes are guys that have been seeing more action during the bye week and that Brian Anderson is now healthy, things that can hopefully be a boost to this struggling group. There simply has to be better run blocking because there have been some positive signs from the backfield this season that just can’t seem to be stringed together in back to back games because of a lack of running room. Ty Chandler is the player that has probably shown the most signs of being able to help this offense consistently and it would be nice to see him more involved in the passing game, as well. Meanwhile, both D.J. Jones and Caleb Hood have had nice moments when rotating in behind Chandler, but Hood is currently on the shelf leaving the door open for Jones to take that next step down the stretch of the season if he can’t return. The passing game needs someone else to finally emerge at receiver, but right now there are no signs of that happening anytime soon. Both Emery Simmons and Antoine Green were raved about in the offseason, but are both averaging less just 1.6 receptions per game so far this season. One of them or one of the younger options will need to step up starting on Saturday for this offense to be able to settle into a rhythm. The continued emergence of Kamari Morales at tight end would also be a big help for this offense.

Defensively, this team has been trending in the wrong direction ever since the Duke game and needs to get things turned around quickly with some dynamic offenses lying ahead. It starts up front where the team simply isn’t establishing enough push. Veterans like Tomon Fox and Raymond Vohasek need to have more steady production moving forward and young guys like Myles Murphy and Kaimon Rucker need to continue to build their flashes into week-to-week performances. At linebacker, the emergence of Cedric Gray has been a godsend after Eugene Asante failed to live up to his lofty preseason expectations. If Jeremiah Gemmel can start to produce more consistently, this unit could be the strength of this defense. On the backend, the safety spots have about the same stability as they did last year and are still struggling with communication which is once again leading to coverage breakdowns. The good news is, there is still a lot of talent in this group and if they can find their footing, this is a more than capable group.

Special teams has been a really solid unit for the team this season and has taken a step forward from last year. The punt block and punt return aspects of this group have been very strong so far this year and Ja’Qurious Conley provides some hope as a kick returner. Ben Kiernan is having another solid year as the team’s punter and while he has been nearly as automatic as last year, Jonathan Kim is still a weapon for this team as the kickoff specialist. The only real concern right now with this unit is with Grayson Atkins, who has shown off the range at times this season but has also missed four of his ten field goal attempts.

Notre Dame

The Fighting Irish are nowhere near the dominant team that the Tar Heels faced in Chapel Hill last year, but this is still a strong group that the Tar Heels will have their hands full with. The Irish run game isn’t nearly as lethal as it was a year ago, but Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree are still more than capable out of the backfield and could give a Tar Heel run defense that is struggling as of late an issue. The team has rotated multiple quarterbacks this season and while the Tar Heels will likely see a lot of Jack Coan, who has been solid, they will also likely have to deal with Tyler Buchner, the mobile quarterback in the trio that has run for 178 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries. Whoever is under center will have a letiny of targets to throw to led by tight end Michael Mayer, who caused some major issues for the Tar Heel defense a year ago. Both running backs are dangerous out of the backfield, as well, and that is another area that the defense has had some issues with in the last few weeks. The good news is that the offensive line is nowhere near what they were a year ago and rank near the bottom of the country in both sacks and tackles for loss.

The defense isn’t quite as dominant as the one last year, either, but they will test this Tar Heel offensive line. Isaiah Foskey is one of the top pass rushers in the country and could cause some major issues on Saturday if the Tar Heels can find a way to neutralize him. The rest of the defensive line is in good shape, as well, led by the Ademilola brothers and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa. The linebacking corps is in strong shape thanks to the duo of JD Bertrand and Drew White who have put up some strong numbers so far this season. The secondary took a major blow with the loss of Kyle Hamilton, who might be the best defensive player in the country this season, but there is still experience here with guys like Cam Hart and Houston Griffith leading the group this weekend.

The Fighting Irish also have a very sound special teams unit this season. The return games are the strength of the unit with Chris Tyree having a great season as the teams kick returner and Kyren Williams at punt returner has been productive, as well. Jay Bramblett has also had a nice season punting wise, averaging 45.3 per punt this year. Jonathan Doerer is the lone concern with the unit, but he is still an experienced kicker that does have a strong leg.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 36.9 (T-18th)

Off. PYPG: 272.1 (29th)

Off. RYPG: 199.0 (33rd)

Off. TYPG: 471.1 (14th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 48.9% (13th)

Def. PPG: 28.9 (T-91st)

Def. PYPG: 219.7 (57th)

Def. RYPG: 158.4 (T-79th)

Def. TYPG: 378.1 (64th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 40.6% (T-84th)

Sacks: 14.0 (T-80th)

Interceptions: 7 (T-43rd)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-61st)

Notre Dame

Off. PPG: 31.0 (T-48th)

Off. PYPG: 262.3 (40th)

Off. RYPG: 107.7 (T-115th)

Off. TYPG: 370.0 (88th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.1% (84th)

Def. PPG: 23.1 (T-52nd)

Def. PYPG: 245.9 (94th)

Def. RYPG: 124.6 (34th)

Def. TYPG: 370.4 (59th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 34.0% (26th)

Sacks: 19.0 (T-38th)

Interceptions: 11 (T-6th)

Turnover Margin: +5 (T-20th)

Keys To The Game

Limit Penalties and Turnovers

Turnovers have been a major issue for the Tar Heels in both of their games on the road this season and that cannot pop up again in this one if the Tar Heels want to pull the upset. Another issue that the team has run into over the past couple of weeks that they have to be limited in this one are the penalties. This will be a tough enough game as it is and getting behind the sticks on offense and giving up automatic first downs on defense simply can’t happen. The Tar Heels will likely need to play their cleanest game of the season to pull off the upset on Saturday night.

Force a Few Turnovers from the Irish

The Tar Heel defense has done a good job of forcing turnovers this season and they will have to create some in this game to pull the upset. The Fighting Irish have turned the ball over 11 times this season and the Tar Heels need to add a couple more to that on Saturday night.

Sam Howell Has to Go Off

Howell’s performance is always a determining factor in the success of this team, but in a game like this, it is important that Howell can elevate his game and take this one over. Howell may not be in the Heisman race, but this will need to be a Heisman type performance to get the Tar Heels a win in this one.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- Chris Collins (undisclosed), Storm Duck (lower body), Caleb Hood (upper body)

Notre Dame

OUT- Cane Berrong (knee), Osita Ekwonu (achilles), Blake Fisher (knee), JoJo Johnson (knee), Marist Liufau (ankle), Paul Maola (undisclosed), Shane Simon (undisclosed), Joe Wilkins Jr. (knee)

QUEST- Kevin Bauman (leg), Chris Tyree (toe)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR#83 Justin Olson, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr. OR #88 Kamari Morales, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr. Defense

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

OLB#10 Desmond Evans, So.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, So.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Jr.

CB#1 Kyler McMichael, Jr.

NB# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.

Notre Dame Offense

QB#17 Jack Coan, Sr.

RB#23 Kyren Williams, Jr.

WR# 4 Kevin Austin Jr., Sr.

WR# 0 Braden Lenzy, Sr.

WR-SL# 3 Avery Davis, Sr.

TE#87 Michael Mayer, So.

LT#76 Joe Alt, Fr.

LG#73 Andrew Kristofic, Jr.

C#55 Jarrett Patterson, Sr.

RG#62 Cain Madden, Sr.

RT#75 Josh Lugg, Sr. Defense

DE#95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Sr.

NT#41 Kurt Hinish, Sr.

DT#57 Jayson Ademilola, Sr.

VYPER# 7 Isaiah Foskey, Jr.

WILL#27 JD Bertrand, Jr.

MIKE#40 Drew White, Sr.

ROVER#24 Jack Kiser, Jr.

CB# 5 Cam Hart, Jr.

FS# 2 DJ Brown, Sr.

SS# 3 Houston Griffith, Sr.

CB# 6 Clarence Lewis, So. Special Teams

K#39 Jonathan Doerer, Sr.

KOS#39 Jonathan Doerer, Sr.

P#19 Jay Bramblett, Jr.

LS#65 Michael Vinson, Sr.

H#19 Jay Bramblett, Jr.

KR#25 Chris Tyree, So.

PR#23 Kyren Williams, Jr.


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