The Fighting Irish play the North Carolina Tar Heels on October 11th in Notre Dame Stadium. Keeping It Heel Editor John Bauman answers five questions to help Notre Dame Football fans be more aware of the opponent the Irish will be facing in October:
What are the strengths and weaknesses of the 2014 North Carolina Football team?
North Carolina’s strengths lie at the quarterback and running back positions. Marquise Williams filled in well for injured Bryn Renner last season, giving the Tar Heels a solid option to turn to at quarterback. Mitch Trubisky lurks as a potential candidate to eventually overtake Marquise, and Coach Fedora hasn’t yet tipped his hat to who the starting quarterback will be between the two. But to have two solid options at quarterback is a major strength heading into fall practice.
At the running back position, UNC has four legitimate options to turn to. T.J. Logan came on strong at the end of last season, Romar Morris is a speedster, Elijah Hood is the most talented of any of the four and Khris Francis is a swiss-army knife type guy who can catch passes and block really well. Those four guys give the Heels a lot of options at running back and make it the deepest position on the team.
Weaknesses are that UNC has to replace a lot of talented guys on both sides of the ball. Gone are Kareem Martin, Tre Boston, Russell Bodine, James Hurst and Eric Ebron, all to the NFL. North Carolina has to figure out in fall practice who is going to step up on the offensive line to replace Bodine and Hurst, who is going to replace the production of Eric Ebron and who is going to generate a pass rush now that Kareem Martin is gone
Can Marquise Williams repeat his 2013 performance in 2014?
Marquise Williams threw for 1698 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions last season. However, 409 yards and five touchdowns came in an 80-20 trashing of Old Dominion. Take away that game from his stats, and they look much different- 1298 yards, 10 touchdowns and six interceptions. I would say that in a full season of work, Marquise can get to 20 touchdown passes and 2000 yards passing. He needs to show an improved arm, but has worked hard this off-season at the Manning Passing Academy and other places to do so. His main strength is in his legs, as he rushed for a team high 536 yards last year. I could see Marquise possibly breaking the 1000 yard barrier next season in 12 or 13 games of work.
My breakout player is very under the radar, as he only caught 22 passes last season as a freshman. But I’m expecting really big things from Bug Howard in 2014. He played really well for the Tar Heels in the N.C. State game, catching five passes for 72 yards, and caught two touchdowns against Boston College. He has the body and length (he is 6’4″) to develop into an Eric Ebron-like athletic beast, and he will get more red zone targets this year now that Ebron is gone. I predict Bug Howard will break out and possibly make an All-ACC team next season.
Like I said earlier, North Carolina is stacked with four legitimate options at running back this upcoming season. Elijah Hood may be the most talented of all four backs, and could fight into the rotation if he shows early that he can excel in pass blocking and catching alone with running. He showed flashes of his potential in the Tar Heel’s spring game, unleashing a few quick cuts and shedding a defender in the process. Tar Heel fans might not see him play up to that potential this season, but he will be a big time player for Carolina in a season or two.
Who do you think wins- Tar Heels or Irish- and why?
North Carolina will be playing the Irish on October 11th in the third game of a brutal three game stretch. The Tar Heels play Clemson on the road, return home to play Virginia Tech and finish up with a trip to South Bend. I think the Heels will be tired and sore after those first two games, and playing on the road against Notre Dame is no easy task. I think the Tar Heels will be really good this year and win nine or 10 games, but I think the Tar Heels will lose a close one against Notre Dame, 31-27.