After this afternoon, the Notre Dame Irish and the North Carolina Tar Heels will have met three years straight. Not bad for an ACC arrangement that should have those meetings come on an average of every three years.
The 2021 and 2022 rendezvous were always scheduled, and the pandemic forcing scheduling on the fly led to the 2020 date. After today, they now will not meet until 2026, though that will be yet another Irish trip to Chapel Hill. Somehow this series will include four trips to the southeast (including 2017’s) around one trip to South Bend in 2021.
Wherever it is played, this has been a one-sided series. Notre Dame has won the last four meetings and 20 of the 22 in history. Of course, only those last four have any pertinence presently.
North Carolina may argue it has improved since some of those games, but the Irish roster could broadly claim the same.
TIME: 3:30 ET, the rare afternoon game for Notre Dame on the road, something announced 48 hours after the Irish lost to Marshall. That timing was a coincidence, the 12 days of notice serving as the usual timeline for these announcements, but that upset may have changed the initial plan.
TV: ABC has this broadcast with Bob Wischusen on the play-by-play while Dan Orlovsky provides analysis.
PREVIEW: Let’s rattle off three North Carolina-specific facts.
First of all, the Tar Heels offense has been astounding this season. That cannot be argued. Irish head coach Marcus Freeman did not outright compare North Carolina to Ohio State’s offense, the best in the country, but he did grant the premise of pondering the game plan Notre Dame used to slow the Buckeyes. The Irish would not lean into that clock-eating approach as aggressively, but Notre Dame also knows better than to get into a shootout with sophomore quarterback Drake Maye.
In the first three starts of his career, the former five-star recruit has thrown for 11 touchdowns and rushed for another. He is the proverbial straw that stirs the drink for the Heels, and as the offense is averaging more than 50 points per game, he is clearly stirring it quickly.
I like this out the @UNCFootball offense
Young QB is talented pic.twitter.com/LUFYciW22o
— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) September 22, 2022
Secondly, North Carolina has not faced a defense anything like the Irish will bring to Chapel Hill. While their rankings were, assuredly, damaged by simply facing the Tar Heels, Appalachian State and Georgia State rank Nos. 76 and 97, respectively, per SP+’s defensive considerations. Notre Dame is at No. 18.
Set aside those intangible thoughts and simply recognize the talent disparity between the Sun Belt’s best and the Irish. Neither the Mountaineers nor the Panthers leaned into the transfer portal to find Power Five talent as Marshall did, and even against the Herd, Notre Dame’s defense had plenty more talent. The offense never produced to reward it.
Lastly, the Tar Heels are coming off an idle week. That isn’t the fact. Well, that is a fact, but here is the intended third of these three facts: Idle weeks do not better a team’s chances of winning the subsequent week. They may help players get healthy, but only in so much as time passes. They may help a bit with rest, but hardly as much as many think, especially this early in the season.
Was asked if those 2019 numbers were a typo.
No, every few years, the season has an extra week that becomes a second idle week for everyone. 2019 was one such year.
And FYI, 2018 … Power Five teams coming off an idle week and then facing a Power Five team went 33-30. https://t.co/8UBqdwOyDt
— Douglas Farmer (@D_Farmer) September 23, 2022
Consider Notre Dame’s plans for its off week following this game.
“I hope after four games, we’re not tired,” Freeman said Thursday. “I don’t plan to rest them a lot. We gotta get better. We have to develop in that week. We’ll have three or four practices during that week to continue to find ways to develop as individuals, as football players. We’ll utilize that.”
PREDICTION: After spending the week as the slightest of underdogs, somewhere between a pick’em and faded by 1.5 points, the Irish became 2.5-point underdogs on Friday. That minimal move stands out only in that if the spread reaches three points, obviously that will look more like a plausible football score. Anything less than three speaks more to a version of a lopsided pick’em.
The combined points total Over/Under of 55.5 argues for a final score of 28-27 or so, and for Notre Dame, either one of those numbers would be a season-high in points.
Of the two mismatches this afternoon, though, the wonder may not be about the Irish offense. Increasingly, offenses have the advantage in modern college football. When a lackluster offense (Notre Dame’s) meets a porous defense (North Carolina’s), it is valid to assume the offense will manufacture its way to a respectable showing.
When a stout defense (the Irish) meets a dynamic offense (the Tar Heels), however, such scheming may not be enough. And in one particular area, Notre Dame will have an advantage today.
North Carolina gave up 49 sacks last season. Think about how many that is. Nearly four times per game, Sam Howell was brought down for a loss when intending to pass. Returning much of that offensive line obviously would not bode well for the Tar Heels, and fortunately for them, only 1.5 of those starters still man that line, left tackle Asim Richards (two-year starter) and left guard Ed Montilus (six starts in 2020, eight in 2019). To supplement them, North Carolina found a Harvard transfer, a Miami transfer and is still trying to figure out its right guard situation.
Nonetheless, the Tar Heels have given up six sacks in their last two games, and only one of those came on a clear passing down (a 3rd-and-5). The Sun Belt defensive lines did not have their ears pinned back to get to Maye. They just beat the North Carolina offensive line. One of those came on a 4th-and-2, when Maye needed to make a better read of the situation.
Notre Dame’s defensive line should feast, particularly after racking up four sacks in the fourth quarter against Cal. More dramatically, when the Irish defensive line feasts, it does so decisively. Of the 10 sacks from the Notre Dame defense this season, the opposition managed to move the chains afterward on that possession a grand total of zero times.
Sacks are somewhat underrated in today’s game. They not only cost an offense a down, they also obviously cost yardage. Duh. But what they do beyond that is turn an offense one-dimensional on any subsequent down, a dimension that has just been sowed with doubt.
Of the 10 Irish sacks, only five were on clear passing downs. Five came in the flow of a productive or newfound possession. They then rendered those possessions all-but dead on arrival.
If Notre Dame can merely match Appalachian State’s and Georgia State’s three sacks, those should be three possessions on which the Tar Heels do not score. A couple more possessions expiring by more natural causes, if you will, could be enough to bring North Carolina’s explosive offense down to a level the stagnant Irish offense can match.
Notre Dame 27, North Carolina 23
(Spread: 1-2; Over/Under: 1-2; Straight-up: 2-1)
"Hm…it's raining…do I have time for a 'Dome in a puddle' photo? Of course I do!" pic.twitter.com/bRAdzKiyEg
— Matt Cashore (@mattcashore) September 21, 2022
INSIDE THE IRISH
— Manti Te’o’s return to Notre Dame ‘always’ a comfortable one for him, long before recent Netflix doc
— Notre Dame’s Opponents: Boston College’s struggles make Irish worries look tame; Clemson faces first real test
— And In That Corner … The North Carolina Tar Heels’ explosive offense could set too strong a pace for Notre Dame
— Things To Learn: New-look Notre Dame offense needed against prolific North Carolina attack
— Betting on a fast start at North Carolina today
— Notre Dame punter Jon Sot winning on and off the field
— Four-star OT Elijah Paige decommits from Notre Dame
— College football games are taking longer, and everyone, including TV, wants to fix that
— ‘I’m still here’ by John Wall