Notre Dame Football Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels Offense


After a fairly impressive game defensively against Stanford, Notre Dame will face a far less talented offense this week against North Carolina.

Although the Tar Heels (2-3) aren’t the strongest team on the Irish’s schedule, Domers shouldn’t look past this team that ranks in the top half of the nation in points per game (36). Ranked at number six, Notre Dame is probably thrilled to have the opportunity to play the number one team in the country in less than two weeks. If they can win that matchup, Notre Dame will finally earn the respect it needs from the rest of the college football world as a legitimate playoff team. However, if the Irish aren’t 100% focused against a Tar Heels team that has nothing to lose at this point, Notre Dame could struggle just like they did against an inferior Purdue team and Syracuse, who forced Notre Dame to commit five turnovers.

On the offensive line, none of the Tar Heels have started for more than one full season. Junior right guard Landon Turner is the leader on the line. Turner played in 12 games two years ago starting in four games at the end of the year. Last season, Turner started every game, and he has been praised by coaches as having potential to win all-conference honors at the end of this season. In five games, the Tar Heels have given up 11 sacks this season, which isn’t terrible protection, but quarterback Marquise Williams’s ability to scramble helps keep that statistic down. The line’s ability to run block isn’t as effective as head coach Larry Fedora would like ranking 92nd in the country in rushing yards per game.

Just as you would expect, the offensive linemen’s ability to run block goes hand-in-hand with how the running backs play. The Tar Heels play a three running back system that resembles the trio running back set that Syracuse and Stanford ran against Notre Dame. Fortunately for the Irish, the defense has proven that it can shut down any running attack it faces holding Stanford to just 54 yards rushing last weekend.

The Tar Heels backfield is led by freshman Elijah Hood who has rushed for 166 yards and three scores. Sophomore T.J Logan and junior Romar Morris are the other two backs in the rotation who have rushed for 125 yards and 81 yards respectively. The numbers really aren’t that impressive for any of the backs, but, again, that is partly due to the fact that Marquise Williams runs the ball himself more often than any of the running backs on the roster.

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The receiving corp for North Carolina isn’t that impressive either as the top receiver on the team, junior Quinshad Davis, has just 16 catches for 196 yards and three touchdowns. Davis, however, is a big receiver that can go up and grab the ball against most corners on a fade in the corner of the end zone. Davis was also named to the Biletnikoff award watch list for top receiver in the country before the start of the season, so he definitely has the ability to make big plays.

The only other receiver that has more than 100 yards receiving is sophomore Johnathan Howard who has 139 yards and a score. The one problem that might show up on Saturday for the Irish is the size difference between the Tar Heel receivers and the Irish secondary. Only one receiver for North Carolina is listed under six feet compared to the Irish secondary that carries just a couple of defensive backs that stand taller than six feet.

Junior quarterback Marquise Williams is the Everett Golson of the North Carolina Tar Heels. Without him, the Tar Heels don’t really have much of an offense to work with. Last season, Williams threw for 15 touchdowns, ran for six and caught one. This season, Williams already has nine touchdown passes and two scores on the ground. Williams’s ability to run the ball makes the read option the Tar Heels’ most potent weapon. If Notre Dame’s front seven can learn to read the option before it develops, the Irish should have no problem stopping the run.

The key for the Notre Dame defense besides stopping Williams is forcing the Tar Heels to commit turnovers. Last week against Virginia Tech, North Carolina gave up three key turnovers throwing an interception and fumbling the football, which both led to two touchdowns. Notre Dame could really run up the score against Nort Carolina if the defense can force multiple turnovers.

In a game that the Irish should dominate, Brian Kelly has to keep his players focused on Saturday and not next weekend. After Notre Dame beats North Carolina, the Irish will have an entire week to prepare for the defending national champions.