The semester ended with final exams last week. Most of the students on Notre Dame’s campus have already left for a long semester break ahead of Thanksgiving.
If Notre Dame football achieves its goals, a break for the team won’t come until Jan. 12 — a day after the College Football Playoff championship game. Irish defensive tackle Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa doesn’t plan to be bored until then.
“Football,” the senior from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, said Monday when asked how he planned to stay occupied without classes. “Being around the guys watching film. We usually just come in in the morning. A lot of guys know that with a lot of free time it’s a time to take advantage and scout the opposing team.”
AP No. 2 Notre Dame (8-0, 7-0 ACC) needed all the time it could get to scout No. 25 North Carolina (6-2) ahead of Friday’s game in Chapel Hill, N.C. (3:30 p.m. EST on ABC). The Tar Heels entered the week ranked among the top 15 FBS teams in total offense, scoring offense, rushing offense and passing offense.
North Carolina averages 43.1 points and 563.4 yards per game and can beat teams on the ground (233.5 rushing yards per game) or through the air (329.9 passing yards per game). The Irish defense will have to account for a lot Friday. That includes sophomore quarterback Sam Howell.
“Sam Howell is definitely an elite QB,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “We just have to keep him contained in the pocket and really disrupt the RPOs that they’ll be doing.”
The run-pass option (RPO) at North Carolina has been particularly effective because of all the weapons in the offense. It starts with Howell, who has thrown for 2,631 yards and 23 touchdowns to wide receivers like Dyami Brown (45 catches for 829 yards and eight TDs) and Dazz Newsome (34 catches for 455 yards and four TDs). The rushing attack is led by a pair of backs averaging more than 100 yards per game: Javonte Williams (868 yards and 15 TDs) and Michael Carter (807 yards and four TDs).
The task of slowing down North Carolina’s offense may be more difficult, but the objective remains the same for the Irish defensive line. Dominate.
“It depends on who’s going to be the most dominant front,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “For us as a D-line, that’s a challenge we like to take. It’s probably going to be one of the bigger O-lines that we face.
“It’s really going to come back to resetting the line of scrimmage, affecting the QB and affecting the throws that he makes.”
The 6-foot-3, 282-pound Tagovailoa-Amosa had an up-and-down start to the season for the Irish, in part because he missed some action in early October.
Tagovailoa-Amosa was listed as unavailable for the Florida State game on Oct. 10 after the Irish were forced to postpone the Wake Forest game the week prior due to a COVID-19 outbreak on the team. He eased back into limited action against Louisville.
Head coach Brian Kelly described Tagovailoa-Amosa as being banged up earlier in the season, but didn’t disclose details beyond that.
“I’m definitely feeling a lot better,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “The bye week was something that gave me an opportunity to recover and really get my weight back up.”
Tagovailoa-Amosa has made an impact in the last three games even if the stat sheet doesn’t show it. His last sack — and only sack of the season — came four games ago at Pittsburgh. Tagovailoa-Amosa recorded a tackle for a loss and fumble recovery at Georgia Tech. He didn’t log any tackles against Clemson or Boston College.
“The defensive line position is one where if you’re getting double-teamed on a particular play, your job is to hold that double team as long as you can,” Kelly said. “So it’s not very glamorous. What he’s done is his job, but when he’s singled up, he’s made a lot of plays for us.
“When we’re looking at grading, we’re looking at No. 1, do you do your job when you’re asked to do your job? Not running around blocks. Not trying to make plays when you’re not in a position to make a play. So the discipline of the defense. And then when you’re singled up, making plays.
“When he gets singled up, he’s very difficult to block and does not stay blocked. That’s extremely important.”
Tagovailoa-Amosa split double teams against Boston College that led to other Irish defenders making plays. It was all part of the plan.
“Sometimes we have to take on those double teams. Sometimes we have to sacrifice the play just to get the scheme correct. It comes down to really doing our job.”
It would be easy to understand if Tagovailoa-Amosa got the itch to work outside of Notre Dame’s scheme. He might be able to record another tackle for a loss if he ditched his assignment and found an easier path into the backfield. But it could also backfire, expose his teammates and lead to a big play for the offense.
That’s the patience required on the defensive line.
“There’s really no frustration there to a point where I get that selfish feeling that I want to do more,” Tagovailoa-Amosa. “Everyone wants to do more. Everybody wants to make a play. But when it comes to the game of football, you’re not going to make every play.”
When that opportunity comes, Tagovailoa-Amosa wants to make the most of it. Whether it’s his second sack, fifth tackle for a loss or 11th tackle of the season, Tagovailoa-Amosa will be ready for it. Because all the weapons in North Carolina’s offense become a lot less effective if Notre Dame’s defensive line is being disruptive.
It doesn’t take extra film study to know that.
“This is a game about dominance,” Tagovailoa-Amosa said. “This game rewards toughness. It’s going to come down to being separated from the O-line and being dominant with my hands, being really physical with what I do on the line of scrimmage.”