The No. 2 Notre Dame Fighting Irish hit the road this weekend to take on the No. 19 North Carolina Tar Heels. Notre Dame is one of the few programs that still controls its own destiny. If Notre Dame keeps winning it will be the ACC champ and it will have a chance to play for the national title.
North Carolina presents Notre Dame with an extremely difficult test. The Tar Heels have an explosive offense and they've yet to lose at home this season. With all due respect to Syracuse and Wake Forest, getting a win over North Carolina likely locks the Irish into the ACC title game.
The Irish Breakdown crew has broken down this game, and now it's time to make predictions.
BRYAN DRISKELL, PUBLISHER
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 27
I have been back and forth on this game all week. There are times when I'm breaking down UNC's film and I say, "Notre Dame should blow this team out." There are times when I'm breaking down the film and say, "Notre Dame might not come out of this one with a W."
North Carolina is a dangerous football team, and head coach Mack Brown has them rolling, but they aren't quite there yet. The Tar Heels have more holes than Notre Dame, and the Irish matchup well in areas where North Carolina is strong.
Offensively, Notre Dame must control the line of scrimmage and quarterback Ian Book needs to get hot early. I expect the Irish to look to control the tempo of the game and look to play a little bit of keep-away from the Tar Heels. Notre Dame will run the ball against North Carolina, and if Book keeps playing like he has its last two games the Irish offense will score almost every time it has the ball.
North Carolina is just too good at the skill positions for the Irish to get a win on the road if this is a shootout, at least that's my concern. That is why Notre Dame must dominate at the point of attack. Getting consistent penetration against the run and harassing quarterback Sam Howell are the keys to forcing enough mistakes to keep the points down.
North Carolina will be game, but Notre Dame is too experienced, too good up front and too locked in to let this one slip away.
VINCE DEDARIO, FOOTBALL ANALYST
Prediction: Notre Dame 49, North Carolina 24
I have seen so many people think that this game is going to be close, but I just don’t see it. North Carolina’s defense allied over 50 to Wake Forest and the Demon Deacons only with their offense was as good as ND’s. The Tar Heels will try and pressure the middle of offensive line and take advantage of two new Irish starters but they will hold up and guys like Ian Book, Kyren Williams and Javon McKinley are going to have career days.
On the other side of the ball Sam Howell and Co. will still be able to rack up yards and will even find the end zone a few times, but I have faith that after a week of rest the Irish defense will be looking to make believers out of the doubters. I think the defense will come up with enough stops to end this one early. I see the Irish coasting by the fourth quarter.
BRIAN SMITH, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 31
Despite Notre Dame's loss of center Jarrett Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer, the offensive line will still perform admirably. This is a cohesive unit, and the Irish will use it as a rallying cry to play power football. Watch for Notre Dame's third down conversion rate to improve as the game moves along, and the Tar Heels defense wears out.
Running back Kyren Williams runs for 135 yards and three touchdowns, while quarterback Ian Book continues his hot streak by keeping plays alive with his feet and taking more play-action shots down the field. Irish tight ends Michael Mayer and Tommy Tremble will be used more with opportunities from play-action leading to each scoring a touchdown, wideout Avery Davis will have a big day for the Irish with four catches for 90 yards and a score.
Defensively, the Irish will struggle to consistently contain one of the nation's top offenses. North Carolina's running game will be the best the Irish face this season, and while Notre Dame will focus on and hold the Tar Heels to 125 yards on the ground, it will allow quarterback Sam Howell to pass for 340 yards.
Look for Notre Dame's secondary to continue to give up too many big plays, and the pass rush to not get home with four rushers quite often enough. That's why North Carolina's wide receiver core will be explosive once again. Rover Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah will come up with a turnover to help solidify the win late.
RYAN PALMERI, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Notre Dame 38, North Carolina 24
North Carolina has failed to live up to expectations. While they are still a year away, this team has been disappointing in my view. However, the offense can score and the Notre Dame defense has given up points the last two games. Sam Howell is a stud at QB and UNC has a receiver (Dyami Brown) and running back (Javonte Williams) with big play ability. The Fighting Irish will need to continue their offensive explosion to put this game away.
NATHAN ATKINS, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Notre Dame 35, North Carolina 30
North Carolina is coming off of a Big 12-like shootout with Wake Forest, 59-53. Tar Heels quarterback Sam Howell finished with 550 passing yards and 6 touchdowns; both are school records. On the other hand, Notre Dame is boasting one of the stingiest defenses in college football, allowing 16.1 points per game. Quarterback Ian Book has become an impact player for Notre Dame as the team pursues a national championship.
Book will have to win on the road without offensive linemen Tommy Kraemer and Jarrett Patterson and speedy wide receiver Braden Lenzy. The Fighting Irish are the more talented team, and they should pull this game out, barring a defensive letdown.
J.P. SCOTT, IB CONTRIBUTOR
Prediction: Notre Dame 41, North Carolina 20
This game has been called a “trap game” by a lot of people this week. The problem is, the victim of trap games normally don’t see it coming because they aren’t focused. Notre Dame has had an extra week to prepare for what appears to be the biggest hurdle between them and the ACC Championship game. Look for the Irish to stick to the basics, pounding the ball on offense and feeding Michael Mayer on high-percentage passes to move the change.
Defensively, Clark Lea is going to have Sam Howell’s head spinning with different looks and exotic blitzes. Irish win going away.
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