While the Tar Heels did drop their third game of the season on Friday to the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, for the second straight season, they gave a College Football Playoff contender all they could handle in the 31-17 loss. The Tar Heels led for the majority of the first half before heading into halftime tied, but failed to find any points in the second half, despite the defense keeping it a one possession game until the final minute and a half of the game. As the team now prepares for the final home game of the season, we give you a look at who’s trending up and who’s trending down. ⇧Dazz Newsome
Newsome followed one of the best performances of his career against Wake Forest. Newsome caught six of his team high ten targets on Friday for 64 yards, doing most of his damage in this one after the catch, an area where he saw so much success a year ago. It has been a tough season overall for Newsome, but this has been a strong two week stretch for him that he will look to carry over into the final two weeks of the year.
It wasn’t Brown’s best game of the season by any stretch, but he still had another solid day on Friday. He was targeted seven times in this one and caught four of those targets for 84 yards, leading the Tar Heels in receiving yards for the sixth time this season. Brown has 50 or more yards receiving in all but one game so far this season and has become the most consistent receiving threat one this Tar Heel team after Newsome held that title for most of last year.
Murphy has been seeing his role expand as the season has progressed and he played his second-most reps of the season against the Irish on Friday. He finished the game with two total tackles and did a good job of consistently winning battles inside when he was on the field. Murphy has grown more and more productive as the season has progress and should only continue to see his role expand in the final two games of the regular season.
For the second straight season, a true freshman cornerback got the first start of his young career against one of the country’s best teams. While Grimes did pick up a pass interference penalty early on the eventual game-winning drive, he had a very nice outing, never really getting beat outright down the field and playing well in 1-on-1 situations for the majority of the day. There were some natural growing pains, but you can see the raw talent this young man possesses. Expect to see a lot more of Grimes as the season comes to an end.
⇧Clyde Pinder Jr.
Pinder only took 12 snaps in the game on Friday, but he flashed in those limited reps. Pinder finished the game with two total tackles, including one for no gain where he showed the ability to be the run stopper the Tar Heels were hoping they got in him. His reps still remain limited, but it is a good sign that he is having an impact when he is in the game.
With the difficulties this defense has had stopping teams at times this season, they can use all the help they can get and that got that from Kiernan on Friday. Kiernan punted seven times, landing all but two inside the 20 and punting three attempts 50 or more yards. His five punts inside the 20 are the most by a Tar Heel punter since David Wooldridge back in 2005. Kiernan has quietly developed into a big asset for this Tar Heel team in 2020.
The Tar Heels offensive line as a whole struggled, but Tucker was the player that had the most trouble in pass protection. He allowed two of the six sacks that were allowed and just couldn’t seem to hold his own when matched up with Adetokunbo Ogundeji. He’ll have a chance to recollect himself this weekend against Western Carolina and he must play better than he did in this one when the Tar Heels meet Miami in the regular season finale.
Gemmel had a solid day in run defense, but that is not the reason he lands in this week’s report trending down. He was torched in pass coverage in the last game against Wake Forest and Friday was no different. The Fighting Irish tight ends, especially Michael Mayer, were able to go to work on him on crucial downs because of his limited coverage ability. The middle of the field has been a big issue in obvious passing situations all season, especially on third down? and the Tar Heels need to look into solutions to solve this problem.
⇩Interior Offensive Line
This is usually the most reliable part of the Tar Heel offensive line, but they were simply beatdown on Friday. Both Joshua Ezeudu and Marcus McKethan struggled to consistently open up running lanes and give the quarterback time to throw, especially in the fourth quarter. Like Tucker, these guys will have the Western Carolina game to get themselves back on track, but they have to be better against Miami and their loaded defensive line.
It hurts to say, but this game was a big blow to Williams' chances of entering the Heisman conversation. He finished the game with just 28 yards rushing on eleven carries, his lowest total of the year and failed to score a touchdown on the ground for the first time this season. The offensive line struggles really killed Williams in this one, as there was simply nowhere to go, so there is no reason to be overly concerned.
Neither one of the Fox brothers had a great day, but Tomari was pushed around by the Notre Dame offensive line for most of the day. After a strong start to the season, the fact that he is undersized has become evident in the past few weeks. Getting into the offseason workout program and adding more weight and strength should help him to avoid in the next few seasons.
It has been a rough couple of weeks for Chapman since he returned from injury. While he finished the game with five total tackles, he still struggled in coverage. The Tar Heels need him to get things on track to help avoid getting torched in the middle of the field, which has happened the past two weeks.