Notre Dame football finally broke through last week, defeating Cal by a score of 24-17. The game came down to the final play, a failed Hail Mary attempt from the Bears, but Notre Dame won more decisively than the score or final play might suggest.
The Irish put the game away several times on Cal’s final drive, only to give them new life via objectively bad penalties committed by the home team. Without these mistakes, Notre Dame would’ve won with a much better taste in their mouths.
Regardless, it is a good feeling to win a football game, and Marcus Freeman and company have some momentum to work with on offense for the first time this season. Week 4 brings a road matchup with the 3-0 North Carolina Tar Heels.
I’m going to take a look at some of the players for Notre Dame football who need to step up and have a big day against UNC for the Irish to come out on top.
Notre Dame football: Players to Watch on Offense
Drew Pyne, QB
Last week Drew Pyne played a very efficient game manager role for the Irish, completing 74% of his passes for 150 yards and 2 scores. There were evident early game struggles that looked like nerves getting the best of Pyne, but he did shake those off.
This week I would expect Pyne to come out with much more confidence against UNC, and I would love to see a downfield shot to generate some instant offense, something we didn’t see at all in Pyne’s first start.
Chris Tyree, RB
Tyree handled the biggest workload of his career last week and made the most of it, going over 100 total yards with a TD. This week against a UNC team that scores at will offensively Tyree is going to need to step up once again and make sure he keeps providing that spark.
Lorenzo Styles, WR
There’s no hiding from the facts: Styles has been very uninspiring so far this season, aside from his 54-yard scamper against Ohio State. Some of that blame goes on the lackluster QB play, but Styles has dropped some catchable passes and has not been able to garner much separation in his route running either.
This week he’s going to need to step up, as he is simply too good of a player to stay hidden in the shadows all season long.
Notre Dame football: Players to Watch on Defense
The Defensive Line
North Carolina QB Drake Maye has been lights out so far this year, shocking the world as a true freshman. If the Irish want to be able to keep up with this potent Tar Heel offense, the Irish defensive line absolutely must get pressure on Maye and rattle him early and often.
Maye has not yet played a defensive front as formidable as Notre Dame’s, so it is important to force him to make bad decisions early.
Tariq Bracy, CB
Bracy has been hands down the best secondary player for the Irish so far this season. He will most likely draw the assignment of covering North Carolina WR Josh Downs in man-to-man coverage on Saturday. Downs is a formidable weapon on the outside for the Tar Heels, and Bracy will need to make plays in coverage downfield to contain his explosive ability.
DJ Brown, S
The ND secondary will be tested on Saturday, no question. The Tar Heels love to throw the ball all around the yard, so the safeties, namely DJ Brown are going to have to make smart decisions and find the ball downfield and make tackles in the open field. It will be interesting to watch how Brown and Brandon Joseph hold up on the back end of the Irish defense.
North Carolina is averaging 51 points per game so far this season. The fact is they own one of the top offenses in the entire nation. However, their defense has left much to be desired, giving up 37.7 points per game, which is 119th in the nation.
The Notre Dame football defense has played some good football this season, but Saturday against UNC will be the ultimate test for them so far.
The quality of competition has not been there either; the Tar Heels have given up 24 points to Florida A&M, 61 points to Appalachian State, and 28 points to Georgia State. Knowing this, Notre Dame has to be able to take advantage of this weak defensive group and score some points on Saturday. If they do this and reign in Drake Maye and Josh Downs, it will be a recipe for success for the Irish.