Much of the focus of the Notre Dame vs. North Carolina matchup this Friday is on the explosive Tar Heel offense against the vaunted Fighting Irish defense.
That matchup is certainly important, but the Notre Dame offense against the North Carolina defense has a completely different look and feel and will be equally crucial to the outcome.
Let's take a look at how the Notre Dame offense stacks up on paper against the North Carolina defense.
Notre Dame Scoring Offense vs. UNC Scoring Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame has been at least a solid offense in all but one game this season, but the unit is starting to catch fire. After averaging just 27.0 points in the first three contests against Power 5 opponents, the Irish offense has averaged 38.5 points in the last four games.
Notre Dame has not been an overly explosive offense this season, but it's ability to move the chains on third-down and its balance are key ingredients to the team's success on offense.
If not for a struggling red zone offense the Irish offense could be averaging over 40 points per game. If Notre Dame can start turning more red zone trips into touchdowns this offense could be much, much better.
North Carolina has been a mediocre defense all season, but its coming off its worst performance of the campaign. The Tar Heels gave up 429.6 yards and 6.3 yards per play in the five games leading up to its matchup against Wake Forest, but things bottomed out in that game.
Wake Forest racked up 606 yards and averaged 6.7 yards per play while scoring 53 points against the Tar Heels. North Carolina hasn't had a very good red zone defense this season, so the Irish should have a chance to get right in this department.
Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. UNC Rush Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
Notre Dame has had one of the nation's best rushing offenses all season, and even without two starters up front this is a matchup the Irish should still dominate.
The Irish have been incredibly steady this season, rushing for at least 208 yards in six of eight games and going for at least 178 in all but one contest. Notre Dame has also gone for over 5.0 yards per carry in each of its last three games, including 208 yards and 5.2 yards per carry in the win over Clemson.
Things started off well for the Tar Heel rush defense, which held its first two opponents to a combined 108 yards and just 2.0 yards per carry. North Carolina also held NC State to just 34 yards and 1.8 yards per carry.
In its other five contests the Tar Heels have given up a lot of yards, with opponents going for 214.6 rushing yards per game and 4.8 yards per rush. North Carolina's last three opponents have also reached the end zone on the ground nine times.
North Carolina has tightened up a bit in recent games, giving up 190.7 yards per game in its last three contests, but opponents are rushing for just 4.1 yards per carry.
Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. UNC Pass Defense
Advantage: Notre Dame
These numbers would have been much closer to even if you take out the most recent game for both teams.
Notre Dame's pass offense was incredibly mediocre during the first half of the season. Quarterback Ian Book averaged just 178.5 passing yards per game, just 7.6 yards per attempt and had just three touchdowns in the first four games of the season.
He broke out against Pittsburgh, throwing for 312 yards and three scores, and in wins over Clemson and Boston College, Book passed for 593 yards and averaged 9.0 yards per pass attempt. Book also has eight touchdown passes in his last four games.
Fifth-year senior Javon McKinley is starting to break out and show himself to be a go-to weapon, and the emergence of Avery Davis in recent games has been a major shot in the arm for the pass offense.
The key, however, has been the improved play of Book. Getting tight end Tommy Tremble more involved in the pass game would be a bonus for Book and the offense moving forward.
An interesting statistic about the North Carolina defense is that in two of the three games where the Tar Heels allowed the fewest passing yards they lost.
Like its run defense, things started off well for the UNC pass defense, which allowed just 4.8 yards per pass attempt in the first two games. That's a truly elite number.
In the last six games, North Carolina has given up 274.5 passing yards per game and 8.6 yards per pass attempt. North Carolina gave up seven touchdown passes in the last three games while picking off just two passes.
One good part of the UNC pass defense has been its ability to get after the quarterback. North Carolina has racked up 15 sacks in the last four games, including five in a win over Duke and four in its most recent game, a win over Wake Forest.
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