Notre Dame must play well on offense this weekend if it is going to come out on top against the Tar Heels. There are a number of important factors that go into success, including the Fighting Irish players winning some very important individual matchups.
Here are the three that I find most intriguing, and that could be most impactful, in the battle between the Notre Dame offense and North Carolina defense.
WR #4 Kevin Austin, WR #0 Braden Lenzy vs. CB #20 Tony Grimes, CB #1 Kyler McMichael
Notre Dame has played against a number of talented corners this season and that will continue this weekend against the Tar Heels. Young cornerback Tony Grimes is a future star and veteran Kyler McMichael, a transfer from Clemson, are a quality duo. Just as concerning for this matchup is they are big, with Grimes checking in at 6-1, 190 and McMichael coming in at 6-2, 200.
Of course, the Notre Dame wide receivers - Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy - have struggled against long corners all season long. That was true last weekend when the combined for just 5 catches for 36 yards. It's been a wildly up-and-down season for both players this season, and neither has played to his full potential for a number of reasons.
They will need to be on their game this weekend. Notre Dame will have chances to get chunk plays on the perimeter much like it did last season with Javon McKinley, who hauled in 6 passes for 135 yards last season in the win over the Tar Heels.
Austin must be fundamentally sound on the outside, battle better for the football and start using his immense talent to win more contested throws. Lenzy needs to get clean releases, stretch the field and haul in any deep throws that come. If this duo, along with freshmen Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie, can make big plays in this game it will soften up the defense, make it much harder for UNC to defend the seams and make the run game work more effectively.
WR #3 Avery Davis vs. S #4 Trey Morrison, S #9 Cam'Ron Kelly
Every time I watch the North Carolina defense I keep thinking this is the kind of game where the Irish Avery Davis to come up big. While the Tar Heels have good corners I haven't been in love with the cover skills of their safeties, especially Trey Morrison.
There will be opportunities for Davis to do work on third-down, which will be a key to success for the Irish. If Notre Dame is able to get him isolated on the safeties I think his sharp route running on out-breaking routes and in the quick-intermediate game. I could see a lot of chain-moving plays for Davis in this matchup.
Where I think Davis could really make a play is with a home run shot or too. It will be up to the coaches to put him in those positions (see below), and if that happens Davis against the safeties could end up being a huge boost for the Irish offense.
Tommy Rees vs. Jay Bateman
This is a tremendous opportunity for young offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to do battle against a veteran defensive coordinator. Rees called a darn good game against USC despite the Trojans throwing a lot of different/new looks against Notre Dame.
I don't see Jay Bateman throwing a brand new defense at Notre Dame, but he will have some wrinkles for the Irish. North Carolina will bring pressures from all over, they will throw a number of stunts at Notre Dame and they will mix up their coverage looks. In some ways he reminds me a bit of former Notre Dame DC Jon Tenuta. He'll look to take full advantage of Notre Dame's season-long pass protection issues, something USC refused to do.
Rees needs to find ways to protect the quarterback, but more importantly I want to see him attack North Carolina's pressures. This is one of those games where I want to see his creativity and aggressiveness combine throughout the game. There will be several opportunities for Rees to use formations, motions, shifts and quarterback movement to get isolations that could lead to big plays. There are opportunities to be had with using the screen game, RPO game and mis-direction to not just move the chains, but create big play opportunities.
If Rees and the staff can identify those areas during the week of preparation, come up with an aggressive game plan and if he can call those plays at the right times in the right looks I think he could help the offense generate some huge chunk plays that could result in Notre Dame starting off extremely well.
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