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Heel Tough Blog: Notre Dame Preview

Jim Dedmon- USA Today Sports

The Tar Heels return to Kenan Stadium for the first time in nearly a month on Saturday, as they welcome in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish while seeking their first 4-0 start since 1997. The Irish will enter Chapel Hill with a ton of question marks and angst after a 1-2 start to the Marcus Freeman era, as the Tar Heels search for their third ever win over them in 23 attempts and avenge the two losses that the team has suffered against them in the last two years.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels come in off their bye week where they had a chance to get a little bit healthier and reevaluate themselves after the first quarter of the season. Offensively, coordinator Phil Longo has pieced together arguably his best unit so far in his time at Carolina despite injuries taking a toll on that side of the ball in the preseason and even into the year. Quarterback Drake Maye is a big reason for that, as he might be off the best start of any quarterback in program history and is even getting some early Heisman buzz. Right now he leads the conference in passing yards, passing touchdowns and passer rating and making it look easy in the process. His weapons took a hit with the loss of Antoine Green in the preseason and Josh Downs going down in the season opener, but there is a chance that both could return this weekend. Downs, a second team preseason All-American, announced on Thursday that he will be back on Saturday, at least in some capacity while Green will likely be a game time decision. The team will still rely heavily on the rest of the group, though, especially early in their returns. The tight end trio of Kamari Morales, Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver are off to an outstanding start to the season and will continue to be a big part of what this team does moving forward, while guys like Kobe Paysour, J.J. Jones and Gavin Blackwell look to continue to build on the early success they have had as a group. At running back, the true freshmen continue to be major contributors, primarily Omario Hampton, who has two 100+ yard, two touchdown games to begin the season. D.J. Jones has also played a major role in each of the past two weeks and has seemingly solidified his role in the rotation. The offensive line has certainly taken a step forward from where they were a year ago thanks to the anchors that have been Asim Richards and Corey Gaynor, but it is a unit that has its biggest tests ahead of them. Getting Spencer Rolland, who missed the Georgia State game, back for this weekend will be huge against an extremely talented Notre Dame defensive line.

Defensively, the Tar Heels bowed up when they needed to against Georgia State, but they still remain a unit that has glaring issues. One of them is up front where the unit is still struggling to get push up front against lesser opponents despite all of the talent that is in the room. The unit was pushed around nearly all day in Atlanta, a major concern with some of the offensive lines that they will face moving forward. Their struggles to get pressure on the quarterback has put more pressure on the secondary for the Tar Heels, which simply has not been able to handle it. The communication continues to be an issue and the corners have been picked apart all season long, especially Storm Duck. The team needs him and Tony Grimes to begin to return to their freshman season forms sooner rather than later to help limit the big plays that this unit continues to let up through the air this season. The linebacking corps has been the strength of the unit, but they have let up some big plays of their own due to some inconsistencies. Still, with guys like Cedric Gray and Power Echols leading the way, there is reason to believe in this group if they can get some help around them.

Special teams-wise, the Tar Heels have a unit that hasn’t been tested much but has thrived when they have. Punter Ben Kiernan is having an outstanding season so far this year, as is the punt return game, which has been settled even with the injury to Downs. Placekicker Noah Burnette hasn’t been tested much but he made two long field goals that ended up being important against Appalachian State. Omarion Hampton, meanwhile, hasn’t been tested much as a kick returner but has shown some flashes in the run game that should give people confidence.

Notre Dame

This was not the start to the season that many Notre Dame fans were envisioning for new head coach Marcus Freeman. Many expected the Irish would fall on the road to begin the season in Columbus against Ohio State, but no one saw the loss in South Bend to Marshall coming. The team also had to survive a late hail mary attempt from California last week that would have given the Golden Bears a chance to tie or win the game to pick up their first victory of the season. The struggles have come on the offensive side of the ball where the team simply hasn’t been able to move the ball or find the end zone. The issues start at quarterback for the Irish. Drew Pyne will make his third career start on Saturday in place of Tyler Buchner. Pyne was solid against Cal, but didn’t show the capability to move the offense up and down the field with any consistency. Normally, he would be able to lean on the ground game, but even that group has struggled so far this year. That being said, Chris Tyree and Audric Estime have the talent to break out at any time. They will need help from an offensive line that is veteran-ladened and talented but hasn’t really lived up to expectations so far this season. Even with the slower start, that unit is the strength of this offense and still has the potential to take over a game at any time. The pass catchers are led by tight end Michael Mayer and Lorenzo Styles but have struggled to produce outside of those two guys.

Defensively, this is a strong unit for the Irish, especially up front. It starts on the edge with Isaiah Foskey and Justin Ademiola who will provide a stiff test for the Tar Heels tackles, while Jayson Ademiola and Howard Cross III patrol the interior of that defensive line. The secondary is also in good shape with D.J. Brown at safety and Cam Hart and TaRiq Bracy at corner off to nice starts to the season. Linebacker is probably the biggest question mark for this unit right now with the team’s run defense having some trouble slowing down opposing run games out of the gate this season. It won’t help, either, that one of the team’s leaders in tackles, JD Bertrand, will have to miss the first half of the game after a targeting call that he received on the final drive of the game against Cal last weekend.

The Fighting Irish’s special teams unit is a solid one. Punter Jon Sot has shown off a tremendous leg so far this season and Blake Grupe, the Arkansas State transfer, has the placekicker role in more than capable hands. Chris Tyree is off to a slow start as a kick returner, but he certainly has the potential to hurt teams who aren’t careful, while Brandon Joseph has put up some decent numbers in his five returns so far this season.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 51.3 (6th)

Off. PYPG: 310.0 (T-20th)

Off. RYPG: 237.3 (T-13th)

Off. TYPG: 547.3 (5th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 56.4% (T-7th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 16.0 (T-64th)

Sacks Allowed: 6.0 (T-72nd)

Def. PPG: 37.7 (118th)

Def. PYPG: 275.3 (113th)

Def. RYPG: 193.0 (111th)

Def. TYPG: 468.3 (123rd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 36.6% (T-70th)

Tackles for A Loss: 14.0 (T-90th)

Sacks: 6.0 (T-67th)

Interceptions: 2 (T-68th)

Turnover Margin: -1 (T-78th)

Penalties Per Game: 7.0 (T-84th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 75.0 (T-113th)

Notre Dame

Off. PPG: 18.3 (T-115th)

Off. PYPG: 182.7 (107th)

Off. RYPG: 117.7 (101st)

Off. TYPG: 300.3 (114th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 26.3% (124th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 13.0 (T-34th)

Sacks Allowed: 7.0 (T-82nd)

Def. PPG: 21.3 (53rd)

Def. PYPG: 184.0 (33rd)

Def. RYPG: 167.7 (94th)

Def. TYPG: 351.7 (59th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 36.6% (T-70th)

Tackles for Loss: 19.0 (T-49th)

Sacks: 10.0 (T-11th)

Interceptions: 0

Turnover Margin: -4 (T-117th)

Penalties Per Game: 5.7 (T-42nd)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 52.3 (54th)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Ja’Qurious Conley (knee), Jahlil Taylor (lower body)

QUEST- Antoine Green (collarbone)

ACTIVE- Don Chapman (off-field), Josh Downs (knee), Caleb Hood (lower body), Myles Murphy (undisclosed), Spencer Rolland (lower body)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 2 Gavin Blackwell, RFr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr. OR #75 Spencer Rolland, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. OR #76 William Barnes, Sr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Sr. OR #98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

JACK# 7 Noah Taylor, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB# 1 Tony Girmes, Jr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Sr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

Notre Dame Offense

QB#10 Drew Pyne, So.

RB#25 Chris Tyree, Jr. OR # 7 Audric Estime, So.

WR# 4 Lorenzo Styles, So.

WR#83 Jayden Thomas, RFr.

WR# 0 Braden Lenzy, Sr.

TE#87 Michael Mayer, Jr.

LT#76 Joe Alt, So.

LG#55 Jarrett Patterson, Sr.

C#52 Zeke Correll, Jr.

RG#75 Josh Lugg, Sr.

RT#54 Blake Fisher, RFr. Defense

VYP# 7 Isaiah Foskey, Jr.

DT#57 Jayson Ademilola, Sr.

DT#56 Howard Cross III, Jr.

DE#99 Rylie Mills, Jr.

WILL# 8 Marist Liufau, Jr.

MIKE#52 Bo Bauer, Sr.

ROV#24 Jack Kiser, Jr.

CB# 5 Cam Hart, Jr. OR #28 TaRiq Bracy, Sr.

LS# 2 DJ Brown, Sr. OR # 3 Houston Griffith, Sr.

RS#16 Brandon Joseph, Jr. OR #11 Ramon Henderson, Jr.

CB# 6 Clarence Lewis, Jr. OR # 5 Cam Hart, Jr. Special Teams

PK#99 Blake Grupe, Sr.

KO#92 Zac Yoakam, Fr.

P#39 Jon Sot, Sr.

LS#65 Michael Vinson, Sr.

HLD#39 Jon Sot, Sr.

PR#16 Brandon Joseph, Jr. OR #29 Matt Salerno, Sr.

KR#25 Chris Tyree, Jr.

Game Information

Location: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC

Time: 3:30 PM


Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network (check local affiliates)


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