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Notre Dame Football

Scouting Report | North Carolina

September 20, 2022
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North Carolina is 3-0 and Notre Dame is 1-2. So why did this game open as a pick ‘em?

Well, because in the month of September you aren’t always what your record says you are. There is still a lot of unknown about Mack Brown’s team despite those three wins. Two came against Group of 5 schools and one came against an FCS program.

This is the third season in a row that Notre Dame is facing the Tar Heels and their identity hasn’t changed all that much despite some changes on the coaching staff. They have a dangerous offense that is capable of producing an explosive play on any given snap and they are as flawed as ever on defense. It also doesn’t help that they are 112th in the country in penalty yards per game.

Ranked 16th in 247Sports’ team talent rankings, they have the second most talented team in the ACC on paper. They haven’t always played like it under Mack Brown and although they have a roster stocked with a good amount of former blue-chip recruits, they have been properly labeled as underachievers. They’re trying to flip that narrrative and a 4-0 start with a win over Notre Dame could help.

They are currently ranked 50th in F+.

Injuries

They are pretty vague on injuries so enjoy these NHL style injury updates from them.

OT Spencer Rolland (lower body injury) is their starting right tackle and he missed the Georgia State game. He’sll be back this week.

DT Myles Murphy practiced last week and will play against ND. He got hurt during the Georgia State game.

WRs Josh Downs (lower body injury, believe it was a sprained knee) and Antoine Green (missed all games with a shoulder injury), along with running back Caleb Hood (lower body injury), will be evaluated during the week and we’ll find out later this week if they will be available.

Notre Dame will expect Downs to play as he technically has had a few weeks rest because of the open week for them. There is a chance he may be limited, though, given that his game is reliant on so many quick cuts and that normally doesn’t mesh well with a knee sprain.

Offense

The best thing Brown did when he came out of retirement to take the UNC job was hire Phil Longo. The personnel changes and he continues to put out great offenses on the field. They were 4th and 15th in OF+ the previous two years and they are currently 5th. They are averaging 7.55 yards per play.

The one big caveat is that those numbers have come against defenses that have been ranked 76th and 97th in SP+ and an FCS defense. Longo’s group struggled mightily against Notre Dame in 2020, but did put up numbers in 2021 in a loss.

Expected Strengths

It all starts with Drake Maye, who won the quarterback job in camp and hasn’t looked back. The former highly ranked recruit lived up to the hype and then some filling the shoes of Sam Howell. He’s completed 74.2% of his passes (9.6 yards per attempt) and is 8th in the country in pass efficiency.

He’s been accurate on the deep ball and has made a ton of throws where the ball placement has been elite. He’s a very good athlete too who is dangerous when escaping the rush and if Notre Dame doesn’t contain him, he’s going to burn them with his legs.

Taking out sacks, he’s averaging 8.25 yards per carry and can be used on designed runs as well as scramble. When he feels pressure, he’s often looking for that opening he can take off.

They have some talent in the backfield. RB Omario Hampton (215) had a 58-yard touchdown against and Caleb Hood (225) had a 71-yard run this season as well. The backs have not been targeted as much as they were in the last couple of seasons, but they have some ability in the passing game too.

Overall the running game has averaged 5.98 YPC.

They are 7th in 3rd down conversion percentage and when they get into the red zone, they’ve delivered. They’ve scored touchdowns on 10 of 11 red zone trips.

They have the weapons to be an explosive offense and have 7 plays of 40-yards or more (tied for 5th) through three games. It’s incredible that they’ve done this because two of those games were without Downs. They have nine players who have plays of 30-yards or more from scrimmage and Downs isn’t on that list.

Downs is one of the best slot receivers in the country. He’s a dangerous player after the catch who can win vertically as well. If he’s healthy, he’s going to be difficult to contain just like he was last year (10 catches for 142 yards).

Potential Weaknesses

They have all of these talented skill players, but what they’ve shown again up front is the main thing that can hold them back. Maye has been pressured on 37.9% of drop backs and they haven’t played Clemson’s defensive line.

O-line is again a problem for them. Their RT Rolland, a transfer from Harvard, hasn’t been good. LB Ed Montilus has a PFF pass blocking grade of 41.9. This is another game where the Irish front four could eat. App State had a 44.7% pressure rate against Maye and Georgia State had a 43.8% pressure rate.

The backs don’t pick up the blitz well either, which has been an issue for them. And while Maye is incredibly talented and put up scary numbers in the first ¼ of the season, he has not been as good when defenses have sent the blitz. His completion percentage drops to 51.2% vs the blitz. 

Those yards per carry numbers are misleading too because the running game has been very hit and miss. They will hit runs because of tempo, but they haven’t blocked it that well consistently.

Scheme

Longo runs his version of the Air Raid. Everyone thinks Air Raid is all about slinging it all over the field and they will do that, but this UNC team is very versatile and will take advantage of matchups whether that’s running or throwing.

They are 54.5% run on the season, which matches how Longo has called things. They are primarily an 11 personnel team so expect Notre Dame to play nickel the entire game like they have the first three weeks as well.

They run RPO a lot. Probably as much as anybody in the country. Overall they run some kind of play-action fake on 37.1% of Maye’s drop backs, which is a bit less than what they did under Sam Howell, but only by a bit.

Notre Dame has to prepare for a quick tempo and lots of plays if UNC gets rolling.

Key Players

QB Drake Maye - He’s unafraid to unleash his arm on intermediate throws and he’s over 70% completions there too.

WR Josh Downs - He got 33.3% of the targets in week one, he was closer to 40% last year.

RB Omario Hampton - The true freshman moved up to a starting role when Hood was out with an injury and produced 110-yards with two touchdowns.

TE Kamai Morales - 16.9 yards per reception and made a big play after the catch against Georgia State for 55-yards.

Key for Notre Dame

Dominate the line of scrimmage

Of course they have to limit the explosive plays and the Irish have been great at doing that so far, but they need to use the same formula that helped them win on the road against the Tar Heels in 2020. They need to rattle Maye as much as possible with pressure and put him on the ground.

Defense

As good as the offense has been to start this season, the defense has made it awkward by being straight up bad.

They are 112th in DF+, 119th in scoring defense, and 114th in YPP. Yikes.

Gene Chizik was brought in to be the guy who fixed all of their previous problems, but so far he’s made it worse. There are several 4 and 5-star recruits on their depth chart who haven’t developed to become the players they were expected to be.

They gave up 40 in the 4th quarter to App State. 40!

They aren’t facing a juggernaut with Notre Dame, but this has been a jarringly bad start for the Tar Heels.

Expected Strengths

Um…well…those Jordan Brand unis are looking fresh?

UNC does have some individuals who have done some nice things this season. Edge Kaimon Rucker leads the team in tackles for loss (4) and the combination of him and Virginia transfer Noah Taylor as pass rushers has been solid.

Cedric Gray continues to be a playmaker for them at linebacker and though he has had a disappointing start to the season, DT Myles Murphy can be very disruptive inside.

Potential Weaknesses

This list gets a lot longer here.

They are 101st in YPC and 111th in YPA against them so they have been bad against the run and pass. When teams get into the red zone, they aren’t doing well to keep them from getting six and are 122nd in red zone touchdown percentage.

They have been purposely passive with scheme to start the season to avoid mistakes, but it hasn’t helped. They are 116th in receptions of 20-yards or more against them.

The Havoc Rate has been terrible (10.7%). They don’t create negative plays. A lot of that has to do with the pass rush being so feeble. They managed to pressure App State’s and Georgia State’s quarterbacks on only 21.6% of drop backs and this is with a defensive line that features six former top-200 ranked defensive line recruits. Their “dudes” are not “dudes”.

CB Storm Duck (real name) was expected to be their best corner and he’s not done well. He’s allowed completions on 76% of targets with him in coverage

Scheme

They play more base under Chizik trying to try and prevent big plays. Brown said they will probably expand the menu during the bye week, but it’s notable that they have only blitzed quarterbacks on 11.3% of drop backs in the first three games.

I know Chizik has been compared to BVG and in a certain sense that fits, but his approach has been much different. It simply hasn’t worked up to this point.

They play a lot more zone than man, but with Notre Dame’s issues in the passing game, maybe that changes.

Key Players

LB Cedric Gray - Their biggest playmaker at the second level for them.

DT Myles Murphy - Bad start to this season, but was really good against the run last season.

LB Noah Taylor - A 21.1% win rate as a pass rusher.

DE Kaimon Rucker - Leads the team in pressures as well as sacks.

Key for Notre Dame

Attack more in the passing game

Speaking of expanding the menu, Notre Dame could use a lot of that too. This UNC defense has been bad in coverage. The Irish have to do something to exploit that. They need to build off of their base with running the football, but must stretch the field more often.

Special Teams

K Noah Burnette has only attempted two field goals this season and he’s made both over 40-yards.

P Ben Kiernan has only had to punt nine times, but he’s boomed those for an average of 51.3 yards.

Murphy blocked a field goal against Georgia State.

S Giovanni Biggers blocked two punts last season so he is a player to watch in those situations.

Overview

Notre Dame’s offense has been bad. UNC’s defense has been just as bad. Which one of those groups is better on Saturday will probably be the biggest factor in deciding the outcome of this game.

I think Notre Dame’s defensive front is going to win the line of scrimmage, but the key will be not giving up too many explosives and keeping the points down for UNC. That will matter, but it will matter more for the offense to take another step forward and grow.

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