Scouting Report

The Fighting Irish of Notre Dame travel to Chapel Hill to take on the twenty-second ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina. Notre Dame has played North Carolina seventeen times winning sixteen and losing one. The Irish are a perfect eleven for eleven at home and at Chapel Hill the Irish are four and one. The last meeting, which occurred in 2006, was a Notre Dame victory, 45-26, at Notre Dame Stadium.

Butch Davis, late of the University of Miami and the Cleveland Browns, is in his second year as the Tar Heel's head coach. Davis was an assistant coach for Jimmie Johnson for ten years, at Miami and with the Dallas Cowboys. Entering into the contest against the Irish Davis is 4-1 this season and 8-9 in his two years at Chapel Hill. This year North Carolina has secured home wins over McNeese State and Connecticut. Two more wins have come on the road over Rutgers and Miami. The lone loss was to Virginia Tech at home.

Davis has been rightfully credited with major improvement in the Tar Heel program by both his recruiting and the staff he's hired. He also benefits from ten starters on offense and six on defense recruited by former coach John Bunting. In researching the recruiting classes of Davis I wonder how his 2008 class could be rated at thirtieth when only four teams pulled in more four-star recruits than Davis. Five of Davis's first year recruits are starters, six are significant backups, and one true freshman starts at defensive end.

I've seen North Carolina play Rutgers, Miami, and Virginia Tech. In their game against Rutgers the Tar Heels just dominated in all phases of the game after a slow start. Against Miami they weathered the storm of being down 14-0. They slowly fought their way back into the game getting within three points, falling behind again by ten points, and finally going ahead for the first time with less than two minutes to go. Conversely, against Virginia Tech they led 17-3 into the last two minutes of the third quarter only to lose 20-17. They also stuffed the Hokies in their end and had field position in Hokie territory the whole first quarter and failed to score.

This week's Rudy Martzke moment: I've actually found something worse than most sideline reporters. Ok, I know it's hard for anyone or anything to be more aggravating and more inept than NBC's Alex Flanagan, but ESPN seems to have found a way in its pairing of Andre Ware, Dave Pasch, and a nameless director I didn't bother to find out about.

In watching the Miami – North Carolina game Pasch beats the viewer over the head with Miami finding their "swagger" to the point of nausea. Ware, never one to disappoint his detractors, offers this gem: "You gotta go for it here if you're Butch Davis and you came to win." Sorry, Andre, it was only third down and not fourth down. The director specialized in crowd shots, sideline shots, and close ups of all things not actually occurring on the field. When he turned to cameras covering the field it was too close to the snap or a split second after the snap making it difficult to view the alignments. If you are watching a game to scout, or watching and like to guess what the play might be, or watching your favorite team to see who's in the game and where they are this directorial style is aggravating. Rant over. Let's look at the Tar Heels.

Tar Heel Offense

North Carolina lost starting quarterback T. J. Yates who had a pass efficiency rating of 167 before the Miami game. The starter against Miami was redshirt freshman Mike Paulus who was to share time with junior Cameron Sexton. Sexton, once he got into the game, secured the starter‘s position and in two games, has managed to acquire a pass efficiency rating of 166. Combine the stats of Yates and Sexton and North Carolina passing is in the NCAA top ten in efficiency. Sexton has three touchdown passes against one interception, has completed 57% of his passes, and averages 18 yards per completion. Although Sexton has only thrown 35 passes this year, 9-16 against Connecticut and 11-19 against Miami the Tar Heel air game has not lost anything with the injury to Yates.

I know Sexton has been the Tar Heel quarterback for only two games and that statistics average out over the course of a season, but 18 yards per completion is scary. He's going to be rolling out as part of their offense, but also because he's 6'1". Never the less, Sexton throws well on the run and that can negate the blitz pressure that Notre Dame brings. The Tar Heels need not be conservative offensively because Sexton has proven to be far more adept in games than the previous number two quarterback, Mike Paulus. Had Sexton finished the Virginia Tech game instead of Paulus I think it's a fair assumption that the Tar Heels would be unbeaten this far.

North Carolina's pass receiving corps will most likely be the best receiving unit that the Irish will face all year. Brandon Tate and fellow receiver Hakeem Nicks are both deep threats and have seven touchdowns between them. Tate is averaging 79 yards per game and Nicks is averaging 83 yards per game. In terms of yards per play Tate is averaging 23.5 yards per catch and Hicks is averaging 17.3 yards per catch. As if that's not enough their third receiver, Brooks Foster averages 10.2 yards per catch and has two touchdowns, one a 14 yard touchdown reception to go ahead of Miami with forty-six seconds left in the game.The "receiving tight end," Zack Pianalto averages 11.2 yards per reception.

The Tar Heels love the reverse. It's a staple of their offense as any receiver goes in motion then breaks behind the tailback's position The play is timed up to give the ball to the tailback or fake to him and give to the receiver. It places the secondary and the linebackers in a tougher reading situation than traditional running games. Tate's reverses have averaged 13 yards per rush and he has a long of 54 yards, Foster averages 15 yards per rush and has a long of 23 yards, and even Nicks has one rush for 8 yards.

Greg Little, a 603" 220 lb tailback, had been the mainstay in the rushing department for North Carolina. It appears that former safety Shaun Draughn has taken charge as the starting tailback. Little averages 3.3 yards per carry despite a fifty yard touchdown against Virginia Tech. Draughn averages 4.7 yards per carry and has a longest run of 39 yards. The third back in the Tar Heel rushing triumvirate is Ryan Houston a 250 pound short yardage specialist. Little, although he doesn't look it, is the fastest of the three backs. Draughn is quicker to the hole. Richard Quinn, a 260 pound tight end, is primarily a blocker for the running game.

The Tar Heel's offensive line impresses me the most when they are pulling the former center or tackles, especially on reverses. The effectiveness in the movement of former center Aaron Stahl to guard last week was something I haven't seen, but it does add to the Heel's ability to pull from the guard position.

North Carolina's red zone offense has yielded 15 scores in 20 trips inside the twenty. They have scored 11 touchdowns, 6 rushing, 5 passing, and have kicked 4 field goals.

Tar Heel Special Teams

Brandon Tate is averaging 25 yards per punt return, but he has only been able to field and run with six punts in five games as the opposition takes great pains in kicking the ball away from him.

Tate returns kick offs as well. He averages 28 yards per return. He is the all time NCAA leader in combined kick returns.

The Ta Heel punter is Terrence Brown who averages 40 yards per punt, has placed 9 punts inside the twenty, and has a long of 53 yards.

North Carolina kick offs are the province of Wooten, whose kicks average 61 yards. He has no touchbacks and three kicks out of bounds. The Tar Heels only allow an average of 17.4 yards per return, just a little more than the Irish's 15.7 yards per return. The Heels also use the pooch kick against speed returners so the Irish deep kick returners might not see much action.

Field goal kicking is a split affair with Jay Wooten and Connor Barth. I have to believe Barth is injured as last year he was a Lou Groza semi-finalist and made 19 of 22 field goals. This year Barth is 1 for3 with both misses at distances under forty yards. Wooten is 4 out of 6 with one of his misses from fifty-three yards.

Tar Heel Defense

North Carolina usually runs a basic 4-3 or even front. The Tarheels pursue well as a defensive unit. As a team they are allowing 144 yards per game but limiting their opponents to less than four yards per rush. Against the pass they are allowing 202 yards per game. The Tar Heels red zone defense has allowed 16 scores in 19 attempts. The 10 touchdowns are split evenly via the rush and pass, and opponents have kicked 8 field goals. The Tar Heels, as a team, have 31 tackles for losses and 6 sacks. They also lead the NCAA with 12 interceptions.

The North Carolina coaching staff believes they have four guys who will play on Sundays at defensive tackle. Marvin Austin, Cam Thomas, Tydreko Powell, and Aleric Mullins are all 300 pounds, rotate in and out, and are a load for any offense. Robert Quinn, a freshman, is a two hundred sixty pound speed rusher at right defensive end. The Heels will blitz, but seem to count on the push of their front four most of the time.

The linebacking corps drops well, pursues well, and are quite active. This trio is led by Mike linebacker Mark Paschal. Paschal, number 41, is my favorite player on the Tar Heel defense. It's easy to see why he's the leading tackler for North Carolina. He's a good tackler with decent speed, a lot of desire, and he takes good angles to the ball. He's so smart in pass coverage, especially in jumping a route, and has two interceptions. If he has a weakness it's his height of 6'and the fact that he sometimes loses ball carriers in front of his massive DT's and most teams' tall offensive linemen. The Will linebacker, Quan Sturdivant, often covers a team's slot receivers, and he has a 57 yard interception.

Part of the twelve interceptions North Carolina has as a team is from athletic ability and part is from jumping routes. Deunta Williams, the free safety, is good at route jumping as are the corners, Kendric Burney and Jordan Hemby, but the best in the Tar Heel secondary is strong safety Trimane Goddard. Goddard has four interceptions and saved the Miami game by stealing a touchdown game winning catch out of the hands of the Miami receiver in the end zone. The secondary can play press coverage, but the Tar Heels seem most content to sit back, take away the deep pass, and come up quickly to punish the receiver.

The Game

The keys to the game and an Irish win:

Tate, Nicks, and Foster, are the scariest trio of an opponent's receivers I can remember. Not only have they amassed 87% of the North Carolina passing yards, but they have amassed 32% of the Heel's rushing yardage, all by reverses. Against Virginia Tech Tate and Foster ran a total of five reverses. Take away, or negate their reverses and the rest of the Heel's rushing offense averages less than 82 yards per game.

The Irish defensive line and linebackers must increase their share of tackles against the run this week as I have a feeling that David Bruton and Kyle McCarthy will have plenty on their hands in the secondary. Tackling well will also keep the Heel's running game manageable. One thing I feel possible is that the Irish may strip one or two this week as all three backs for the Heels aren't taking care of the ball the way I'd like to see were I their coach.

The Irish need to put pressure on Sexton and keep him contained to the inside thwarting his ability to roll out. If he's pressured in this manner it can greatly reduce the role that the Scary Trio plays. I don't think that the Tar Heel rushing game, barring a complete Notre Dame collapse, can hurt the Irish enough.

The Irish secondary must keep Tate, Nicks, and Foster in front of them and tackle well. All are real threats in the yards after catch department. Blow a tackle on any of these three and they could be gone. The Irish defensive backs must be in the game each and every play with no lapses in judgment or effort. North Carolina can attack deep along the sidelines and down the middle. North Carolina also loves double moves, particularly against the corners, a problem for some in the Irish secondary. They must always know where Tate is at as well. He's the most dangerous in the slot.

The Irish offensive line needs to note that McNeese State suffered not one sack at the hands of North Carolina and rushed for 152 yards.

Offensively the Irish need to run the ball, if not above their current average of 104 yards per game, then at least as much. North Carolina's speed makes getting wide very difficult. The Irish must go up the middle and off tackle to successfully run the ball. North Carolina's light defensive ends may be a key in the game off tackle. Kyle Rudolph needs to have a good day blocking.

The passing game of Notre Dame is definitely strength versus strength in the clash with the North Carolina secondary and linebackers. Jimmy Clausen needs to be patient and not force the ball. He needs to have a good day reading the coverage, following his progressions, and checking off to the backs. If the fade or go is employed then the ball must definitely be thrown to the outside and the safeties must be occupied because they close fast on balls that hang. Kyle Rudolph and the backs must have a big day in receiving as well.

The Irish are winless on the road and this is a swing game for Notre Dame. Nothing less than their best effort will do in Chapel Hill.

The Tar Heels and their fans will be jacked up. A win over Notre Dame by a program that operates under the shadow of their basketball program would be huge for the Tar Heels. Home field is usually a three point advantage.

Prediction: North Carolina 27 Notre Dame 24


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