Notre Dame football: Kyren Williams runs all over UNC in 44-34 victory
The offensive rhythm works when Notre Dame goes with its up-tempo approach. This is because it takes the pressure off the offensive line, and it makes it so Jack Coan’s lack of composure in the pocket and his lack of arm talent aren’t as important as they would be in the downfield passing game. This rhythm is completely different when Tyler Buchner comes into the game, as they move to a slower, run-based offensive philosophy. The trick is finding a balance between the two systems. North Carolina struggles on defense, but the rhythm never left the Irish.
The secondary without Kyle Hamilton was never going to be the same. Sam Howell is one of the top quarterbacks in his class, and this was always going to be that unit’s biggest test this year. At the end of the first quarter, Howell hit a wheel route for 42 yards that Hamilton would likely have been able to takeaway. TaRiq Bracy went down at the start of the second half, which hurt the secondary a lot too. A fake screen towards the end of the third quarter ended in an easy touchdown throw, where it became clear how confused the secondary is without Hamilton on the field.
Then, give Brown credit too, he had a great pick on Howell in the 4th to set up the offense. On top of all that, the secondary’s attitude just felt different. It was almost like they were less confident and less interested in coming up and attacking the run game. For his part, Hamilton was on the sidelines doing his best to act as an extra coach.
Kyren Williams went down with an apparent knee injury. He had his leg trapped under a defender who tackled him along the sideline, and immediately he grabbed at his right knee. The trainers then took him into the injury tent. However, he popped out of the tent quickly and looked ready to go back into the game, strapping his helmet on. He would come back on the next offensive possession and dominate. Williams ended the day with 22 carries for 199 yards and a touchdown.
It looks like we’re accepting a two-quarterback system at Notre Dame, and that’s just something fans will have to adjust to for the rest of the season. This isn’t one of those systems where they trade drives or trade every two drives, though. They’re going to come in and out randomly for each other, giving wildly different looks to defenses. That can be very difficult to prep for, but it’s important to make sure that Buchner throws enough to let that still be a threat.
The pass rush seemingly couldn’t get home, which was a bit of a surprise. Pass protection has been one of North Carolina’s biggest weaknesses this year, but Notre Dame struggled to force sacks or tackles for loss in this game. They did put some pressure on Howell, but more often than not he slipped away and was able to create plays where he should’ve lost yardage. By the end of the day, they had two sacks, plus an intentional grounding while Howell was wrapped up, but there should have been a lot more from this defensive line.
Isaiah Foskey stayed down during the fourth quarter, before running off the field. It was hard to tell what happened, but that would be a major loss to Notre Dame if he spent any amount of time out. He didn’t return to the game.
The run defense was suspect at best. Linebackers weren’t filling gaps properly. There wasn’t much pressure or havoc created in the run game by the defensive line. Blitzes took players out of position. The defensive backs seemingly couldn’t read runs and were waiting for Tar Heel runners to hit the second level. Marcus Freeman went prevent right before the half, and North Carolina could get anything they wanted. It was rough, and that’s before you consider all of Sam Howell’s success in draw plays and the read option.
Braden Lenzy got banged up early in the game, and got a lot less time after that, being evaluated for an injury. This did open up space for young wide receivers to get more playing time. Lenzy would later be ruled out for the rest of the game with an upper-body injury. Still, Lorenzo Styles has been playing the way Braden Lenzy was supposed to for years now, so it might just be time for the young players to get their shot.
North Carolina had never won in South Bend, coming into the game, at 0-12. That streak of losing in South Bend continued, and now North Carolina is 0-13 at Notre Dame.