The Notre Dame defense against the North Carolina offense, this is truly a matchup of two of the nation's best units. Whoever wins this battle will give its team a great shot to win the game.
Let's take a look at how the Notre Dame defense stacks up on paper against the North Carolina offense.
Notre Dame Scoring Defense vs. UNC Scoring Offense
The bye week came at the perfect time for the Notre Dame defense, which is coming off its first stretch of back-to-back games of allowing 30+ points since the 2016 season.
That comes after a six-game stretch in which the Irish defense carried the football team. Remember when Notre Dame scored 12 points against the mediocre Louisville defense and still won?
Notre Dame held three of its first five opponents to single digits and two others scored just 13 points. If you wanted to be technical, you could say that Notre Dame held four of its first six opponents to single digits when you consider that seven of Georgia Tech's 13 points were on a fumble return for a score.
Notre Dame has had an outstanding red zone touchdown and third-down defense all season. The ability to make stops against the best of opponents has been a key ingredient in the team's success.
North Carolina provides the Notre Dame defense with arguably its toughest test of the season. The Tar Heels come into this matchup averaging 51 points per game in their previous four contests.
Over its last six games, the North Carolina offense has averaged an astounding 607.2 yards of offense per game and 8.1 yards per play. It's hard to fathom those numbers, and the Tar Heels "worst" performance during that stretch was 536 yards in the 44-41 loss to Virginia and 6.9 yards per play in a 48-21 win over NC State.
North Carolina's balance and explosiveness are key ingredients to its success on offense. The Tar Heels rank in the Top 25 nationally in red zone touchdown offense and third-down offense, which makes for a very intriguing matchup against the Irish.
Notre Dame Rush Defense vs. UNC Rush Offense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame is on a stretch of brilliant run defense that is now going on 14 games. The Fighting Irish rank in the Top 10 nationally in rushing yards allowed, yards allowed per rush and tackles for loss.
The Irish held six of their first eight opponents to under 100 rushing yards, and another (South Florida) gained just 106 yards, much of which came against the back up defense late in the game.
Notre Dame is an incredibly sound run defense, but a key to its success has been how dominant ends Daelin Hayes and Adetokunbo Ogundeji are at setting the edge and how disruptive its defensive tackles have been at getting a push.
North Carolina running backs Javonte Williams (868 yards, 15 TD) and Michael Carter (807 yards, 4 TD) are both on pace for over 1,000 yards in the regular season, which is incredibly impressive. That one-two punch is as good as you'll see anywhere in the country.
The Tar Heel rush offense is more finesse oriented, but it has a veteran offensive line that is assignment sound, and quarterback Sam Howell's effectiveness throwing RPOs (run pass option) both add to the difficulty of defending the run game.
A case could be made that statistically this is more of an even matchup, but Notre Dame gets the edge due to consistency. The Irish run defense has been outstanding week after week, whereas North Carolina rushed for just 93 yards (2.8 YPC) in a loss to Virginia and averaged just 4.1 yards per rush in a loss to Florida State.
Notre Dame also ranks 10th in tackles for loss while UNC ranks 71st in tackles for loss allowed, which further gives the Irish the on paper edge.
Notre Dame Pass Defense vs. UNC Pass Offense
Advantage: North Carolina
Notre Dame has good pass defense numbers this season, but the Irish defense hasn't been challenged much. Notre Dame faced just two Top 40 pass offenses this season, and against the best throwing offense it faced (Clemson) the Irish pass defense gave up 439 yards through the air and allowed 10.0 yards per attempt.
The other Top 40 pass offense was Pitt, who the Irish held to just 118 yards, but the Panthers played that game without starting quarterback Kenny Pickett.
Notre Dame's pass defense has been a bit up-and-down this season, and it has shown a bad habit of giving up big plays in the pass game, something that has been especially problematic in its last three games.
The inconsistency at getting after the quarterback has been a problem at times, but North Carolina ranks 92nd in sacks allowed, which will be a matchup to watch.
Quarterback Sam Howell and the Tar Heel pass offense was a bit sluggish out of the gate. Howell averaged 259.0 yards per game, 9.4 yards per attempt and 13.6 yards per completion in the first three games of the season and had six touchdowns against three picks.
In the five games since he's been on fire, averaging 370.8 passing yards per game, 11.2 yards per attempt and 16.7 yards per completion. He's thrown 17 touchdowns against just three picks.
Wide receiver Dyami Brown is North Carolina's top pass catcher, and he leads the ACC with 829 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. UNC's running backs running backs have combined for 39 receptions, 476 yards and five touchdowns. They will make life challenging for Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and the Irish linebackers.
If Notre Dame is going to limit the UNC pass game it will need a strong pass rush and a big game from sophomore safety Kyle Hamilton.
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