Notre Dame: Looking Ahead At The Final Four Opponents

Let's use the bye week to take an early look at Notre Dame's final four opponents.
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Okay, so technically Notre Dame only has three opponents left on the schedule, but barring a collapse, the Irish and Clemson Tigers are on a collision course for a rematch in the ACC title game.

With the bye week upon us, let's take a look at the final four opponents left on the schedule.

OVERVIEW

Notre Dame is definitely the middle of its toughest stretch of football, and so far the Irish are 2-0. Notre Dame's first eight opponents combined for a 25-39 record, while the final four opponents have an 18-13 record, which includes 1-7 Syracuse.

Here's a look at how the Notre Dame offense stacks up against the offense of the final four opponents (Note: ACC rankings are provided)

Screen Shot 2020-11-18 at 10.44.54 AM

Other than Syracuse, the final stretch of football includes three of the very best offenses that Notre Dame will face this season. The Irish defense will need to come out of the bye week playing better than it did during the final two games before the bye.

Now let's look at how the defenses compare.

Screen Shot 2020-11-18 at 10.45.17 AM

Notre Dame and Clemson are the two best all-around defenses in the ACC, with only Pitt really being in the same conversation. 

NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS

Record: 6-2
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 33-10 on Oct. 7, 2017

Remaining Schedule

vs. Notre Dame (8-0)
vs. Western Carolina (0-1)
at Miami (7-1)

Analysis: North Carolina's offense is smoking hot right now, as the Tar Heels have averaged 51.0 points and 607.3 yards (8.0 yards per play) in the last four games.

The offense is fueled by a dynamic run-pass balance. Quarterback Sam Howell is the big name, and he's heating up after struggling a bit out of the gate. Howell has thrown 13 touchdown passes in the last three games. He has a dynamic pass catching duo to throw to in Dyami Brown (45 catches, 829 yards, 8 TD) and Dazz Newsome (34 catches, 455 yards, 4 TD).

While the pass game gets the attention, it's the run game that makes this offense special. Junior Javonte Williams (868 yards, 7.2 YPC, 15 TD) and senior Michael Carter (807 yards, 7.0 YPC, 4 TD) are both on pace for over 1,000 rushing yards this season. In North Carolina's two losses it averaged 138.5 rushing yards per game and 3.6 yards per rush. In its six wins, the Tar Heels averaged 265.2 rushing yards per game and 6.2 yards per rush.

The defense has been a struggle, and the Tar Heels have given up at least 44 points three different times this season and have given up at least 21 points in all but one game.

SYRACUSE ORANGE

Record: 1-7
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 36-3 on Oct. 17, 2018

Remaining Schedule

at Louisville (2-6)
NC State (5-3)
at Notre Dame (8-0)

Analysis: It has been a struggle for head coach Dino Babers. After leading the Orange to an impressive 10-3 record in 2018, Babers and Syracuse are just 6-14 in the two seasons since. 

The strangest part has been the immediate cratering of the offense. That offense fueled the 10-win season in 2018, averaging 40.2 points and 464.8 yards per game. That dropped to 28.3 points and 394.6 yards last season, and the Orange are averaging a paltry 18.3 points and 263.8 yards per game this season.

Struggles at quarterback have been a problem, and the Orange have yet to find a replacement for Eric Dungey, who led the 2018 squad.

Syracuse hasn't been much better on defense, with the Orange ranking in the bottom third of the league in most statistical categories.

WAKE FOREST DEMON DEACONS

Record: 4-3
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 56-27 on Sept. 13, 2018

Remaining Schedule

at Louisville (2-6)
Miami (7-1)
Notre Dame (8-0)
at Duke (2-6)

Analysis: Wake Forest is a dangerous 4-3 football team. Two of their losses came to Clemson (37-13) and North Carolina (59-53), and another came to 5-3 NC State (45-42). The Deacons are a dangerous football team, but a team that Notre Dame should be able to handle.

Wake Forest uses a balanced offensive attack to do damage. The Deacons were held to just 37 yards in the opener against Clemson, but since that loss the offense has averaged 198.7 rushing yards per game and 268.2 passing yards per game.

Quarterback Sam Howell has been steady, throwing for 240.3 yards per game and eight touchdowns. Howell has yet to throw an interception, and he has a quality group of pass catchers. Junior running back Christian Beal-Smith and sophomore back Kenneth Walker III are averaging 167.3 yards per game and have accounted for 17 touchdowns.

The Wake Forest defense has been wildly inconsistent. It played quite well while dominating Syracuse and held Virginia Tech to its second lowest yards per play total of the season. It is coming off a game against North Carolina where it allowed 59 points and 742 yards in a game where the Deacons blew a 45-24 lead.

CLEMSON TIGERS

Record: 7-1
Last Meeting: Notre Dame won 47-40 in overtime on Nov. 7, 2020

Remaining Schedule

at Florida State (2-6)
Pitt (4-4)
at Virginia Tech (4-4)

Analysis: Clemson got a week off to lick its wounds and get healthy after its loss at Notre Dame. That gave quarterback Trevor Lawrence a week to get back into rhythm after COVID-19 forced him to miss two games, including the game against the Irish.

This weekend's game at Florida State could get very ugly for the Seminoles.

I am curious to see how the Tigers bounce back from the loss to the Irish. Notre Dame fans know how explosive the Tigers can be offensively, but can Clemson figure out a way to run the ball better in the games leading up to its expected rematch against Notre Dame. That is my biggest question mark.

Clemson's biggest issue this season has been its pass defense. I don't know if we'll have an idea if it has improved since the loss to Notre Dame when you consider the quality of the opposition over the next three games. Pitt throws the ball a lot but it's not an overly explosive pass attack, while Florida State and Virginia Tech rank 13th and 14th in the league in pass offense.

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