UNC Football Scouting Report: Notre Dame Fighting Irish

ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30: Chazz Surratt
ATLANTA, GA - SEPTEMBER 30: Chazz Surratt /

The Tar Heels return to Chapel Hill this weekend to take on the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame.

If only this game was last season.

Last year, the Tar Heels had a future first round pick at quarterback, talent overflowing at wide receiver and tailback, and a defense that was at least tolerable.

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At the same time, the Fighting Irish were a mess. They went 4-8, missed a bowl game and lost to ACC opponents Duke, NC State, and Virginia Tech.

However, it isn’t last season. It’s this season, and this season the story lines are much different. Notre Dame is 4-1, their only loss a one-point defeat to the second best team in the SEC. UNC on the other hand, has questions at every position and currently sit at 1-4.

With all of that in mind, here is how Notre Dame gets things done on the field.

On Offense…

The Notre Dame offense begins and ends with the running game. Notre Dame is seventh nationally in the rushing game with just over 300 yards per contest. That begins with running back Josh Adams.

Adams has rushed for 658 yards on 73 carries this season, which is fourth in the nation. His nine yards per carry is ninth in the nation, and averages nearly a first down per carry. In his last game, he rushed for 159 yards on just eight carries. Adams also has four touchdowns this season.

SOUTH BEND, IN – SEPTEMBER 30: Brandon Wimbush
SOUTH BEND, IN – SEPTEMBER 30: Brandon Wimbush /

In addition to Adams, the team also quarterback Brandon Wimbush who has 402 rushing yards to go with eight rushing touchdowns on the season. Wimbush’s status for this game is questionable, and if he doesn’t play that could be a huge boost for the Tar Heels.

Regardless of who is rushing the ball, look for them to do it to the left side where the team has two future first round picks in offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson.

On Defense…

Notre Dame brought in a new defensive coordinator this season in Mike Elko. Elko was previously at Wake Forest where he had one of the best defenses in college football last season.

Elko likes to run a 4-2-5 defense. If that sounds familiar, it’s because that’s what North Carolina used to run before Gene Chizik arrived. If you’ll remember, those North Carolina defenses gave up a lot of yards and points.

Notre Dame has a little more talent on that side of the ball than the Tar Heels did, so they are not as bad, but the defense is still vulnerable. The Fighting Irish rank 74th nationally in yards per game, 64th against the run and 84th against the pass.

The biggest difference overall, though, is that they don’t allow a ton of points, ranking 22nd at just over 18 points per game.

Additionally, Notre Dame has 11 sacks and 11 turnovers this season.

Player to Watch…

With Wimbush questionable, the player to watch should be wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown. Even if Wimbush plays, he will be limited and backup Ian Book is not the same athlete, which might encourage the Irish to pass the ball more.

Additionally, the Tar Heels should be focused on stopping Adams, which would leave St. Brown one-on-one against either M.J. Stewart of K.J. Sails. Stewart can easily hold his own in those situations. However, if St. Brown finds himself matched up with Sails often, he could be in for a big game.

Difference Maker…

The North Carolina offense and its ability to sustain drives. North Carolina’s defense has been on the field way too often this season. It has made strong efforts futile because the defense is too gassed to stop anybody by the end of the game.

With a rushing attack like Notre Dame’s, this is key. If the UNC offense can put together some long drives, it gives their defense a rest and a chance to force turnovers and three-and-outs.

Next: UNC picking up momentum with Dax Hollifield

If it doesn’t, the defense may have some big moments early, but as we saw against Georgia Tech, that can snowball quickly in the second half.