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Notre Dame Notes: Irish Take on the Tar Heels

Drew Pyne

Drew Pyne

Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

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Notre Dame entered last weekend’s game against Cal in search of a win. Nothing more, and nothing less.

The Irish didn’t need any kind of style points to garner favor with fans. Just a home win against a team they were favored to beat by 11 points.

That much-needed win is exactly what they got, downing Cal 24-17 in a game that required 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to secure the win. Again, it didn’t need to be pretty, it just needed to be a win.

After opening the season against Ohio State as the No. 5 team in the nation, Notre Dame’s fall from the ranks came quick. While the loss to the Buckeyes didn’t knock them from the top 25, a 26-21 home loss to Marshall in Week 2 was more than enough to signal that the Irish had a problem on their hands.

Week 3 faced its own unique challenge when it was discovered that starting quarterback Tyler Buchner (shoulder) would be lost for the season, forcing the team to turn to backup Drew Pyne after just two games. To their credit, Notre Dame answered the bell to secure their first win of the season, but through three games, they’ve failed to impress much on offense.

Now on the road, Notre Dame faces a North Carolina team that’s allowing 37.7 points per game on the young season. If there were ever a time to take advantage of an opportunity, it’s now.

Notre Dame

In last week’s win against Cal, Notre Dame struggled to move the ball downfield -- just as they did in the previous two weeks. Under quarterback Drew Pyne, the Irish totaled a mere 297 yards of offense, with 150 of those yards coming through the air, but had a 43.3% success rate on their plays through the afternoon.

In his first start, Pyne went 17-of-23 passing for 150 yards and two scores, with his longest play of the day coming on a 36-yard pass to running back Audric Estime. Pyne would also find running back Chris Tyree for a 21-yard score, as 38% of his passing yards came on two of his 17 completions.

It wasn’t an impressive performance, but it got the job done.

it’s safe to say that three games are enough for us to know that Notre Dame’s just might not be very good in 2022. They rank 115th in the nation in points per game (18.3), are 53rd in points allowed per game (21.3) and rank 55th in offensive success rate (42.1%).

Tight end Michael Mayer leads the team in receiving, with a line of 15-145-2 on a team-high 25 targets. While wide receiver Lorenzo Styles has gone for 11-152-0 on 16 targets, making him and Mayer the only two receivers on the team with 100+ yards.

michael mayer 2022 receiving stats

michael mayer 2022 receiving stats

Defensively, Notre Dame will need to button things up against a strong Tar Heels offense. While they haven’t allowed more than 26 points in any game this season, the Irish’s defense has appeared vulnerable at times.

They rank 82nd in the nation in overall defensive success rate (42.9%), but have been gouged on the ground, allowing 167.7 rushing yards per game and a 52.4% success rate to teams on the ground (ranked 119th in the nation). In that home loss to Marshall, it was the Herd’s ground game that gave the Irish fits, as they rushed for 219 yards on 50 carries, good for a 4.4 YPC on the afternoon.

North Carolina

Forget all of the big-name quarterbacks for a moment, and think about what UNC’s Drake Maye has done through three games.

One of the most exciting young quarterbacks in the country, Maye has thrown for 924 yards, 11 touchdowns and one interception, while also rushing 12 times for 158 yards and another score. Maye’s completion percentage of 73.5% ranks fifth in the nation, while his 53.3% completion percentage on deep balls is good for 20th.

Drake Maye 2022 Stats

Drake Maye 2022 Stats

Maye and the Tar Heels are averaging 547.3 yards per game -- the fourth most in the nation and are eighth in the nation in predicted points added per play at 0.477. Through three games, Maye has spread the ball around to several different receivers.

The Tar Heels have six players with 100+ receiving yards on the season, including two tight ends in Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver.

2022 North Carolina receiving stats

2022 North Carolina receiving stats

North Carolina’s explosive offense has proven valuable through three games, as their defense has been anything but.

In addition to allowing 37.7 points per game, the Tar Heels’ defense ranks 104th in defensive success rate (46%) and has allowed a passing success rate of 43.1% -- ranked 114th in the nation. If there was ever a time for Notre Dame’s offense to get right, it could be this weekend.

The Tar Heels get this one at home -- their first home game since Week 1 against Florida A&M, but even the Rattlers managed to find 24 points in hostile territory.

Irish Pick ‘Em Predictor Picks

Notre Dame Passing Yards (200-229)

I took Notre Dame to go under 200 passing yards last week against Cal -- that worked out great. While I’m tempted to go back to that well again, I’ll give the Irish a slight bump against this Tar Heels defense, but this one could be close. One of the more astonishing numbers from last week’s win over Cal was how Pyne and company reached 150 passing yards. Per PFF, Pyne averaged a measly 2.6 ADOT on the season, while his receivers combined for 142 YAC. If you’re doing the math at home, all but eight of Pyne’s 150 passing yards came after the catch. Pyne and company may need to air it out to keep pace with the Tar Heels in this one, but last week’s game against Cal instills little confidence.

Notre Dame vs. UNC Total Points (52-57)

The projected total for this game sits at 55.5 after opening at 60. Given what we know about these teams, this is a tough one to handicap, but I think 55.5 feels about right in a game where UNC is favored by 1.5 points. Even against a struggling Tar Heels defense, it’s hard to envision the Irish flirting with 30 points. It’s also hard to imagine the Irish allowing 30+ after holding a team like Ohio State to 21 points in Week 1. I think this total can fit within the 52-57 point range in a game that should still feature some scoring.

The Game

North Carolina vs. Notre Dame Week 4

North Carolina vs. Notre Dame Week 4

This one is a near pick ‘em with the Irish getting 1.5 points as it stands right now. After starting the season 0-2, Notre Dame entered the fourth quarter of last week’s game against Cal trailing 17-14. 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter were enough to give Notre Dame the 24-17 win, but this is a team that could easily be 0-3. In their last 10 games, UNC is 3-6-1 ATS, and 1-1-1 on the season. However, laying 1.5 points at home to a struggling Notre Dame team feels off in what I believe to be a giant offensive mismatch.

Pick: North Carolina -1.5

2022 Record: 8-10-1