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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame, Kelly Preparing For “Extremely Prolific” UNC Offense

November 23, 2020
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Brian Kelly makes it sound simple, but the Notre Dame head coach certainly doesn’t make the task of slowing down North Carolina’s offense on Friday sound easy.

Kelly referred to the Tar Heels’ offense as “extremely prolific.”

“A very dynamic offense led by Sam Howell, but very balanced,” Kelly continued, referring to North Carolina’s sophomore quarterback, who has thrown for 2,631 yards and 23 touchdowns against just six interceptions through eight games this fall.

Kelly said the Irish will still play their game.

“We want to be who we are,” he said. “We want to be physical. We want to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. That’s how we play. They’re going to play how they play. We have to minimize big plays. Obviously, the most important thing in this game is who can keep the points down? If you look at their scores over the last few weeks, it’s big points.”

Indeed, the Tar Heels have averaged 51 points per game in their last four contests against NC State, Virginia, Duke and Wake Forest.

“Defensively, we’ve got to do a really great job of minimizing big chunk plays,” Kelly added. “You start by minimizing those and controlling the line of scrimmage.”

Kelly pointed to North Carolina’s weapons at receiver in Dyami Brown (45 receptions, 829 yards, 8 TDs), Dazz Newsome (34 receptions, 455 yards, 4 TDs) as well as the “very, very big offensive line,” but running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter clearly have his attention.

“The running back situation is as talented as anybody in the country,” said Kelly.

Williams has rushed for 868 yards and 15 touchdowns on 120 carries while also catching 18 passes for 247 yards and three more scores. Carter has rushed for 807 yards and four touchdowns on 116 carries with 21 receptions for 229 yards and two more touchdowns.

Virginia limited Carter and Williams to 118 rushing yards on 22 attempts combined during the Cavaliers’ 44-41 win over the Tar Heels last month, but Howell threw for 443 yards and four touchdowns. Kelly doesn’t necessarily see that as a recipe for success defensively against North Carolina.

"Virginia was able to stop the run, but they had no chance in the back end,” said Kelly. “Brown had over 200 yards receiving against Virginia. You just can't have those kinds of games."

UNC’s RPO-heavy attack puts defenses in a pick-your-poison dilemma, but that’s not what Kelly points to for Howell’s success.

“There’s no question that’s part of it, but he throws the best deep ball in the league,” said Kelly. “That’s really the difference with Sam. I don’t want to take away any of the other things…but he throws a great deep ball. He’s able to locate. He doesn’t, I like to use the phrase ice the puck. He doesn’t throw it out of bounds. He gives his receivers a chance to catch it.

“He throws a great glance route and that’s really, for me, what has separated Sam from the other quarterbacks that we’ve seen this year.”

Notre Dame’s challenge is getting Howell “off rhythm,” according to Kelly.

"You do that by keeping the down and distance in your favor,” he continued. “It's very important for us to do that at the line of scrimmage and then eliminate the big plays.”

Kelly boiled it down further.

"If I was to center around two things without giving away too much of a game plan, you have to be really good at the line of scrimmage and being effective at stopping base run plays and then you can't give up big chunk plays. They're going to get some, but you can't have them throwing the ball over your head left and right.”

 
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