On paper, North Carolina looks like a top 10 team.
In fact, the Tar Heels were ranked No. 10 by the Associated Press at the start of the season. The paper version of this team has proved much better than the one that actually has to play games.
North Carolina (4-3) has struggled to play at a consistently high level. Its best win was a 59-39 victory over Virginia (6-2), a team that is good enough to garner some top 25 votes.
The Tar Heels have had disappointing losses to Virginia Tech (17-10), Georgia Tech (45-22), and Florid State (35-25).
Its worse loss was the home defeat to the Seminoles. North Carolina blew a 10-0 first quarter lead before falling behind 35-17.
The Tar Heels are coming off a bye, so once again Notre Dame will get a refreshed and perhaps rejuvenated team with some new wrinkles to show.
Why should North Carolina be better?
Quarterback Sam Howell, who has rushed for 494 yards and has completed 61.4% of his throws with 18 touchdown passes and six interceptions, is as talented as any quarterback on ND’s schedule so far. They have a game-breaking wide receiver in Josh Downs, a 5 foot 10 sophomore who has caught 60 passes for 837 yards with eight touchdown catches. Ty Chandler, a 6 foot, 210-pound senior running back, is averaging 5.5 yards per carry.
North Carolina returned every starter on its offensive line from 2020. That included left guard Joshua Ezeudu, a 6-4, 325-pound junior who was a second-team All-ACC selection. Their center, Brian Anderson, is considered one of the best in the ACC. He started every game last year.
The offense has been productive. It’s averaging nearly 37 points per game and 471 yards of total offense.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said that the Tar Heels have some elite players.
“This is an extremely talented team,” he said. “I know there’s a lot of people talking about the expectations and they haven't lived up to those expectations. I'm sure they have higher expectations. But as you watch them on film and evaluate them, this is a talented football team.”
In the preseason, the defensive line was projected to be a strength.
Defensive tackle Myles Murphy, a 6-4, 305-pound sophomore lineman, has four sacks and 8.5 tackles for losses. But two returning starters Raymond Vohasek and Tomari Fox, have had their struggles. Kelly said that Murphy will be “an NFL player.”
Kelly said the Tar Heels are tough to figure out because they have so many good players.
“Again, (Paul) Longo (their offensive coordinator) does a great job with the scheme. Their scoring offense is 15th in the country,” Kelly said. “I mean, this is a really talented team. Look, it's about winning football games, but on any given night, if this team puts it together, they're as good as any team we've played this year. That's not just coming up with a statement to get everybody's attention.”
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