While much of the focus is on the vaunted North Carolina offense and the talented Irish defense, the key to this game is how well the Irish offense handles the Tar Heel defense. Notre Dame must play extremely well on offense if it is going to beat North Carolina and keep its unbeaten streak alive.
Here are five keys to success for the Irish offense.
BOOK NEEDS TO KEEP DOING WHAT HE’S DOING
Quarterback Ian Book has been on fire lately, going back to the 45-3 win over Pittsburgh. Against North Carolina and its high-powered offense the Irish signal caller must continue playing at a high level.
The offense needs Book to be efficient, to make plays with his legs, to attack down the field and to be dominant on third-down and in the red zone. Notre Dame has the weapons to shred the Tar Heel defense, but the triggerman needs to be on top of his game.
If Book continues his strong play the offense will score a lot of points.
CONTROL THE BALL
One way to slow down the North Carolina offense is for the Notre Dame offense to do what it can to control the ball, control the lock and put stress on the Tar Heel offense. This entails a ball control offense that includes the efficiency in throwing game I just talked about, and it requires the ground attack to get rolling early.
Notre Dame’s offensive line needs to gel quickly and get running backs Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree off to a fast start. If they can pound the defense, gash the defense and keep moving the chains it will result in the Irish getting points and eating up block. There is nothing wrong with big plays, and I expect the Irish to do that, but that needs to be mixed in with a clock controlling game plan.
If Notre Dame is chewing up clock while also finishing drives with points it puts a greater sense of urgency on the Tar Heel offense. That could be what the Irish defense needs to force North Carolina into mistakes.
This is an example of the complementary football I wrote about earlier in the week.
START FAST - ANSWER
Starting fast is a must for the Irish offense, and that is true no matter what the UNC offense is doing early. If UNC starts fast on offense a fast start for the Irish offense means matching score for score, which gives its own defense time to adjust and make corrections.
If the Irish defense is playing well early and forcing stops, a fast start by the Notre Dame offense means it puts early distance between itself and North Carolina. Notre Dame is used to being in games like this, North Carolina is not. The more stress Notre Dame can put on North Carolina, on either side of the ball, the greater chance they make a mistake.
Notre Dame simply cannot miss opportunities to put UNC away early, and it cannot fall behind early.
BEAT THE BLITZ
North Carolina likes to attack with its linebackers in normal situations, and when facing an opponent that is clearly better than they are you can expect the coaches to use the linebackers to heat up the ND offense.
Co-defensive coordinators Jay Bateman and Tommy Thigpen know they can’t stop the Irish offense playing straight up. They will look to attack with the linebackers on early downs to create negatives and short gains in the run game, and they’ll look to put pressure on Book and not let him get into rhythm.
For Notre Dame offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, he will need to have a game plan to attack the UNC linebackers and blitz packages. If Rees can get a quick read on when and where the Tar Heels will bring pressure, and if he can use the run game, screen game and quick throws to attack those pressures he could create big play opportunities for the offense.
Should Rees get a read on the blitzes and make those calls, and if the Irish offense (mainly Book) executes, they’ll punish North Carolina for bringing those pressures.
RED ZONE TOUCHDOWNS
Boston College outplayed North Carolina, but it lost 26-22 because it scored just two touchdowns in five red zone opportunities. Turn one of those field goal drives into a touchdown and the Eagles win that game.
Notre Dame cannot repeat that mistake, especially early in the game. If Notre Dame can turn its red zone trips into touchdowns the Irish will likely win this football game.
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