Notre Dame faces its toughest defensive test of the season on Saturday night when the Fighting Irish have to square off against the North Carolina offense. The Tar Heels have a dynamic wideout, a talented veteran rusher and one of the best quarterbacks that Notre Dame will face this season.
If Notre Dame is going to win on Saturday night the Irish have to play well on defense and come up with stops. Let's take a look at how the Notre Dame defense stacks up against the North Carolina offense.
Notre Dame Rush Defense vs UNC Rush Offense
Advantage: Notre Dame
The numbers are close on paper but Notre Dame has been the better unit in this matchup all season. Outside of the opener against Florida State, the Notre Dame run defense has been good to very good all season. Since that opener against the Seminoles the Irish have given up just 101.3 yards per game on the ground.
North Carolina has been wildly inconsistent on the ground this season. The Tar Heels went for 392 on the ground in a 59-39 win over Virginia and racked up 229 and 228 yards in its last two games. It struggled to run the ball against Virginia Tech in a season opening loss and rushed for a combined 197 yards in back-to-back games against Georgia Tech (63 yards) and Duke (134 yards).
In the video above we break down this matchup, including the differences between the Tar Heels run game this season and last season, and the impact quarterback Sam Howell has made in the ground attack this season.
Notre Dame Pass Defense vs UNC Pass Offense
Advantage: North Carolina
Notre Dame's pass attack has been a bit inconsistent this season, and some of its numbers are impressive and others are scary. Consider that Notre Dame will be without Kyle Hamilton and this matchup gets a bit shaky. North Carolina is naturally good at attacking safeties and linebackers, and without Hamilton that presents a challenge for the Irish.
One area where Notre Dame should have a huge advantage is with the pass rush. Notre Dame has a potent pass attack that is led by star end Isaiah Foskey and North Carolina ranks 127th in the country in pass sacks allowed. If Notre Dame wants to slow down the UNC pass attack it needs to pressure Howell early and often.
In the video above we break down the danger that wideout Josh Downs presents Notre Dame, the concern about how Notre Dame is going to line up and what the Irish can do to win this matchup.
Notre Dame Scoring Defense vs UNC Scoring Offense
Advantage: Notre Dame
On paper you could argue that North Carolina has the advantage, and without Hamilton that argument gets stronger. Notre Dame, however, has faced a better schedule so far and its trending in the right direction. Notre Dame's third-down success, red zone touchdown defense and penchant for forcing turnovers against an offense that is prone to giving it up are what have me leaning towards Notre Dame in this matchup.
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