Written By: Ryan Lippert|@Lippert42
As it is Thanksgiving week, one thing that I will say that I am thankful for among many others is that college football is still going strong. Coming into the final few weeks of the season, college football fans have been blessed with a lot of great games so far. This week is no exception as there are multiple intriguing matchups to look forward to. The most interesting one is in the ACC. The second-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish are off to a hot start as they are sitting on an undefeated record and looking to stay in the College Football Playoff picture. They will be on the road this Friday against a talented North Carolina team that has had an up and down season this year sitting at a 6-2 record. While Notre Dame is the favorite on paper, this Tar Heel team has plenty of talent to give them problems and hand them their first loss if they don’t come to play. With that in mind, let’s take a deeper look at this week’s College Football Game of the Week between the North Carolina Tar Heels and Notre Dame Fighting Irish.
Book Looks to Lead Fighting Irish to College Football Playoff
This Notre Dame offense has been clicking so far this season, hence their undefeated record. They can credit a lot of their success to a solid performance from their leader, quarterback Ian Book. The senior has impressed so far in 2020, throwing for 1,818 yards with 11 touchdowns and only one interception. He has also rushed for 364 yards and six scores. His top target this year has been fellow senior Javon McKinley who has caught 24 passes for 414 yards. Seniors Ben Skowronek and Avery Davis have also been very involved in this offense. Skowronek leads the Fighting Irish with five receiving touchdowns. It also helps that they have a freshman tight end in Michael Mayer that has looked like a future NFL prospect with 21 receptions for 247 yards and two touchdowns.
Book will be facing a North Carolina defense that has had its ups and downs against the pass this season. The Tar Heels have given up 261.75 passing yards per game and 14 total passing touchdowns this season but have come away with seven interceptions. They have a young secondary as they have four sophomores starting with Ladaeson Hollins and Kyler McMichael at the corners joined by Don Chapman at free safety and Cam’Ron Kelly at strong safety. Junior Trey Morrison will be the starter at nickel. Highly touted freshman Tony Grimes will also be in the rotation at corner.
While Book has had a strong season so far, he has benefited from having a very talented running back to turn to. Sophomore Kyren Williams has shown that he is one of the most electric backs in the country as he has rushed for 777 yards and ten touchdowns off 137 carries so far. He has also been a reliable option in the passing game with 17 catches for 215 yards. Behind him, freshman Chris Tyree and junior C’Bo Flemister will also see some carries. Unfortunately for their run game, they will be without two starting offensive linemen in center Jarrett Patterson and right guard Tommy Kraemer.
This Notre Dame rushing attack will be facing a North Carolina defense that has had some trouble stopping the run this season. They have given up 151.9 rushing yards per game and 16 total rushing touchdowns so far. However, they still do have some talent on their front seven, led by NFL prospect Chazz Surratt at middle linebacker. The senior leads the Tar Heels with 68 total tackles with 6.5 of them being for loss and also leads the team with five sacks. He is joined in the linebacker core by junior Jeremiah Gemmel on the inside with senior Tyrone Hopper and Tomon Fox on the outside. Fox leads the team with eight tackles for loss. In front of them, their defensive line is led by Tomon’s younger brother, sophomore defensive end Tomari Fox who has had a solid season with 38 tackles, six tackles for loss, and four sacks. Fox will be joined by junior Raymond Vohasek at nose and sophomore Jahlil Taylor at tackle.
Can North Carolina’s High Powered Offense Win This Game?
While they have been just about average on the defensive side of the ball, North Carolina’s offense has been very exciting to watch this season. They are led by a sophomore quarterback in Sam Howell that I truly believe is a future top-level NFL prospect. After an impressive freshman season, Howell has continued to put up impressive numbers as he has thrown for 2,631 yards with 23 touchdowns and six interceptions so far. It helps that he has a pair of very talented receivers to throw to in junior Dyami Brown and senior Dazz Newsome. Brown leads the team with 45 receptions for 829 yards and eight touchdowns while Newsome has 34 catches for 455 yards and four scores. Sophomore Emery Simmons and freshmen Khafre Brown and Josh Downs have also been highly involved in the passing game.
Howell will be up against a Notre Dame secondary that hasn’t been bad against the pass this season, allowing 219 yards per game and six total touchdowns so far while coming away with five interceptions. Their secondary has a good mixture of veteran and young talent this season. They are led by two seniors in Nick McCloud at corner and Shaun Crawford at strong safety. Crawford also plays in the nickel. They are joined by a talented sophomore in Kyle Hamilton, who leads the team with 39 tackles, at free safety with freshman Clarence Lewis at the other corner spot. Junior TaRiq Bracy will also be in the rotation at corner.
Although Howell is the unquestionable leader of this offense, he has benefited from having a two-headed monster in the backfield to take some pressure off of him. Senior Michael Carter and junior Javonte Williams have both looked like NFL caliber running backs this season. Williams leads the duo with 120 carries for 868 yards and 15 touchdowns. Carter has added 807 yards and four touchdowns off 116 carries of his own. Williams has been the better receiving back of the two with 18 catches for 247 yards and three scores.
While this rushing attack has been good, they have yet to face a front seven as good as the group they are going up against on Friday. This Notre Dame defense has been stingy against the run, allowing only 85.1 rushing yards per game and seven total rushing touchdowns this season. Their front seven has been led by two talented seniors in Drew White and middle linebacker and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah at rover. White is second on the team with 38 tackles at Owusu-Koromoah leads the team with 8.5 tackles for loss. They will be joined in the linebacker core by junior Shayne Simon with junior Bo Bauer and sophomore Jack Kiser rotating in. In front of them, the defensive line is led by senior Daelin Hayes at defensive end who has 15 tackles with six tackles for loss and three sacks this season. He is joined by three fellow seniors in Adetokunbo Ogundeji at the other end with Kurt Hinish at nose and Myron Tagovailo-Amosa at tackle.
With everything that is on the line, mainly for Notre Dame, along with two very talented teams, this game has the makings of a very exciting one until the final minutes. The Fighting Irish look to have an advantage in the run game as I think Kyren Williams can get going. However, Surratt may have something to say about that as this could be a huge opportunity for him to improve his draft stock on a big stage. That will be a very fun matchup to watch. On the other side, Notre Dame’s front seven could provide some issues for the North Carolina run game. However, this Tar Heel offense is electric and I see them getting things rolling in this game. Book will make plays down the stretch to keep the Irish in this one but the overall talent of this North Carolina offense in both the running and passing game will take over. I’m putting the Fighting Irish on upset alert as I have the Tar Heels winning this one 34-31.