It’s Tar Heels Week!

The Fighting Irish are once again double digit favorites heading into their game against North Carolina, but there’s still some question as to who will be under center for Notre Dame when the game gets underway, as Brandon Wimbush is listed as a game time decision for the Irish. No strangers to injuries themselves, the Tar Heels come into the game with a staggering nineteen injured players, thirteen of which have been lost for the season; and we thought Notre Dame’s 2015 injury plagued season was bad? Given the number of injuries for the Tar Heels, I’m actually surprised that the Irish are only a 14.5 point favorite in this game, but the uncertainty at the quarterback position for the Irish may have something to do with that. Fortunately, for the Irish, they’ll have their full compliment of running backs, regardless of who’s under center, as Dexter Williams is available and should see the field on Saturday.

This will be Notre Dame’s third road game in their last four games, but road fatigue shouldn’t be an issue, especially with their bye week coming just next week. This should be another exciting game for Fighting Irish fans, and if the Irish stay true to their form over the last three games, it should be another decisive win to carry the Fighting Irish into the bye week with a 5-1 record, and plenty of momentum, as they prepare for a big showdown with USC the following week.

 

The Match-up

The Irish have now won three straight by 20 points or more, and have moved up one spot to No. 22 in the AP Top 25 following their 52-17 win over Miami (OH); they’ve also moved into the Top 25 Coaches Poll at No. 22 after dropping out following their Week 2 loss to Georgia. The Tar Heel’s season has been one marred by injuries, and they come into this game with a 1-4 record following last week’s loss to Georgia Tech; the Tar Heel’s only win this season was a 53-23 win against Old Dominion in Week 3.

 

The History

These two schools have faced each other on the field 19 times, going all the way back to 1949, and the Fighting Irish lead the series 17-1. Those numbers don’t quite add up, I know, but it’s not because I’m that bad at math; North Carolina actually vacated their 2008 win over Notre Dame as part of self-imposed sanctions because they were cheating bastards! as punishment from an NCAA investigations into Tar Heel athletes accepting improper benefits, and academic misconduct. The last meeting between the two teams was in 2014, when the Irish pulled out a 50-43 win in a back and forth game.

 

Players To Watch

Fighting Irish

Brandon Wimbush/Ian Book

Wimbush was listed as day-by-day after suffering an ankle injury at some point in last week’s game, and will be a game time decision according to Coach Kelly. If Wimbush does end up starting, you’d have to think he’d be somewhat limited in the run game, which, to date, has actually been his strength. Regardless, if he does get the nod, he’ll have a chance to strengthen his passing numbers against a Tar Heel defense that’s ranked 89th in the country, giving up an average of 245 YPG.

If Ian Book gets the nod, it’ll be the first start for the sophomore who’s thrown just eight passes (completing 3 for 51 yards) in mop up duty so far this season. Those 3 receptions came just last week against Miami (OH), where he also ran for 37 yards on 3 carries.

Josh Adams

Adams also injured his ankle in the game against Miami (OH), but his injury wasn’t that serious, according to Coach Kelly, and he could have continued on if the Irish had needed him. After rushing for 159 yards and 2 TDs in the first quarter, though, the Irish had already built up a sizeable lead and were able to give Adams the rest of the game off. Regardless of which quarterback gets the starting nod for the Irish, look for another big game from Adams, who already has 658 rushing yards and 4 TDs on the season, against the 112th ranked rushing defense that gives up an average of just under 222 rushing yards per game.

Jerry Tillery

Tillery’s play on the defensive line really stood out to me last week against Miami (OH), and I have to admit, it kind of surprised me when I took a look at his season long stat line at what a productive season he’s been having; either I haven’t been paying quite enough attention, or he’s not been getting nearly the praise he should be getting during games. Against the RedHawks, he had 1.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, and a big forced fumble that was recovered by the Irish. With several injuries along the offensive line for the Tar Heels, it isn’t much of a stretch to envision Tillery adding to his team leading 3 sacks on the season.

 

Players To Watch

Tar Heels

Chazz Surrat (QB)

With Mitch Trubisky bolting to the NFL after last season, the Tar Heels weren’t left with a lot of options at the QB position, but Surrat, a redshirt freshman, won the starting job (over Brandon Harris, a graduate transfer from LSU), and has been playing fairly well, especially considering the number of injuries to his wide receivers and tight ends; he’s lost three wide receivers and two tight ends for the season, and another two wide receivers are listed as questionable for the game on Saturday. Despite the dearth of top-notch targets, Surrat has still put up decent numbers through five games, throwing for 988 yards and 5 TDs.

Anthony Ratliff-Williams (WR)

With the loss of their top receiver Austin Proehl two weeks ago, Ratliff-Williams has become Surrat’s go-to receiver, and is the current active leader in yards for the Tar Heels. His big game so far this season came two weeks ago against Duke, where he hauled in 5 receptions for 125 yards, including a 45 yard TD reception. Through five games, Ratliff-Williams has 11 receptions for 201 yards and 1 TD.

 

Fighting Irish Keys to Victory

Stay The Course

The Irish have been running the ball well over the course of the last three games, and really, all season, with the exception of the game against Georgia, and there’s no reason to do anything differently against North Carolina, especially with the lingering question mark at quarterback. North Carolina isn’t particularly stout against the run, with Georgia Tech putting up 403 yards on them last week, and Louisville running for 312 yards on them in Week 2, so the Irish should be able to run the ball against them. We should see a heavy dose of Josh Adams to get things started, with plenty of opportunities for Williams, McIntosh, and Jones Jr. to get involved in the run game as well.

 

Final Analysis

The Fighting Irish may be a little banged up heading into Week 6, but the Tar Heels have been absolutely decimated by injuries, and their 1-4 record shows it. We won’t know until game time, or a little before then, who will be the signal caller for the Irish, but I don’t think that will have an affect on the final outcome, though it might on the final score; i.e. will the Irish be able to run up the score as much as they have the last three weeks? Personally, I think they can, and it’s not because I think Book is a better QB than Wimbush, I just have that much confidence in the Irish run game.

Final Score: Notre Dame 45 – North Carolina 20

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