News and Notes: 10/31/2006

*The running game found their groove last weekend in the 38-14 win over Navy. A game after Notre Dame totaled 41 yards on the ground in a narrow victory against UCLA, head coach Charlie Weis made it a point to improve this area.

Improve they did. Led by Darius Walker's 103-yard performance, the Irish racked up 176 yards on 37 attempts. Even linebacker Travis Thomas got into the mix when he took a handoff on 3rd-and-1 and darted through the left side of the offensive line for a 16-yard touchdown. This week, there's another good chance that Notre Dame will have their way running the football. North Carolina ranks 115th nationally in rushing defense. The fewest yards they've allowed on the ground this season: 117 in a loss to Virginia Tech. Last week, Weis called more power run plays instead of the variety of draws that the Irish normally use. A majority of straight ahead runs could be in store on Saturday afternoon.

"It helps build a mentality when the linemen go to the line of scrimmage and can just tee off on people and not think so much or wait to react," Weis said. "There's negatives that come with that now. Sometimes you have people slanting, stunting and blitzing all over the place. When you come off on someone, they might not be there when you want to hit them. It's easier when they're lining up in a two-gap mode like they were last week."

*Can the Notre Dame defense, so dominant in the second half on games this season, show up for the first 30 minutes of the contest? It's a puzzling aspect to the 2006 Irish team. In the second half, Notre Dame has allowed 53 total points but 120 in the first half.

It's not just the points. All the statistical categories point to solid second half adjustments. First downs: first half 76, second half 67. Rushing yards: first half 678, second half 428. Passing yards: first half 881, second half 656. Total yards: first half 1,559, second half 1,084. Weis has went back to the drawing board and found a possible answer. He won't tell what the possible solution is until after the North Carolina contest.

"We'll have to see if it works out on Saturday first," Weis said. "I think we came up with a plan. I'd rather follow up on that on Sunday."

*The fourth down numbers are staggering. Notre Dame has gone for it 23 times on fourth down and converted 17 times of the opportunities. This is good for 73.9 percent. The aggressive nature of Weis goes back to two heavyweight titans of the professional ranks.

"Statistically, two of the top three guys going for it on 4th down were (Bill) Parcells and (Bill) Belichick," Weis said. "Part of my mentality came from how they think. I don't know who was one and who was three but they were both in the top three. A lot of times, you are who you're groomed under and I've said often that I'm copycat guy. Those guys are really good. When they make those decisions and you understand why they made those decisions, when you're forced to be the decision maker it makes it a little easier because you have no one to answer to but yourself."

*Weis said that Anthony Vernaglia's injury sustained in the Navy game wasn't as serious as first thought. The junior linebacker hurt his knee on special teams in the second quarter last weekend. Weis feared that they would have to scope it and Vernaglia would be out for a month. But the end result turned out more positive. Although Weis said he's probably out for this week, Vernaglia should not miss extensive time.

*Notre Dame and North Carolina have met 16 times. The Irish hold a commanding 15-1 record over the Tar Heels. The only North Carolina win came in 1960 by a score of 12-7. Notre Dame has beat the Tar Heels by 10 points or more in 11 of their 15 victories.

One interesting note: Tar Heel head coach John Bunting was part of the 1971 contest won by the Irish 16-0 in South Bend. In the game, Bunting totaled 20 tackles.

*North Carolina kicker Connor Barth has been impressive this season. The junior is the only kicker in the ACC to be perfect in both field goals and PAT's. For the year, Barth is 6-for-6 on kicks and 14-for-14 on point after tries. His long: 52 yards.

*Notre Dame defensive back Raeshon McNeil will be meeting some former teammates this weekend. The freshman from Davie County High School in North Carolina played with three current Tar Heel players: sophomore strong safety Cooter Arnold, freshman linebacker Logan Buchanan and senior linebacker David Wooldridge.

*The size advantage: the Irish offensive line averages 294 pounds vs. the Tar Heels defensive line at 274.8 pounds. At the skill positions, Notre Dame's wide receivers average 6'4" against North Carolina's 5'11" average in the secondary.

*The Tar Heels are extremely good in one area: kickoff coverage. North Carolina is first in the ACC and second in the country in the category. The Tar Heels allow just 14.6 yards per return. Add this to being the only team in the conference with an onside kick recovery and Barth's proficient field goal kicking, if this contest comes down to special teams, North Carolina appears to have the edge. But it's an if that probably will not happen this weekend. Top Stories