Notre Dame at North Carolina: These 4 players could make the difference

Tom Noie
ND Insider




Last time Notre Dame (1-2) went on the road and faced a team that liked to throw the ball a lot — Ohio State — it was Hart who was picked on. Let’s test him. Let's make him make a play. He was tested; he didn’t make a play. 

Is this the week cornerback Cam Hart and the Notre Dame defense records its first takeaway? It will need a few to keep pace with the North Carolina offense.

Ohio State never did get its high-octane pass game in gear. North Carolina might do Saturday what Ohio State couldn’t — get rolling through the air. Hart and the Irish secondary were really good that night in Columbus. They’ll have to be again. North Carolina (3-0) attacks from all angles. Six receivers each have at least 100 yards receiving through the first three weeks. That doesn’t even count Josh Downs, who set school records for catches (101) and yards (1,335) last season, but who has missed the las two weeks with what has been termed a “lower body injury.” His status for Saturday is uncertain. 

Hart and the Irish defense still don’t have a single takeaway through three games. They’ll have plenty of chances to make plays — a pick, a strip, both — against the Tar Heels. Time to make a few. 

Noie:Yeah, that wasn't pretty, but the end result was — and needed — for Notre Dame



No, Saturday’s win over California wasn’t easy on the eyes for myriad reasons, but yes, Notre Dame’s offense might have found something it can hang its collective/successful hat on going forward. Mainly, simplifying everything. 

Good stuff seemed to surface against California when Notre Dame let tailback Chris Tyree touch the football.

Forget spreading out teams by going three and four wide. Instead, line up and play some football. Run the ball. Then run it again. If you need to pass, go the short and sure (safe) routes. All of that leads to more work by Chris Tyree, who finally was let out of his own personal workload jail against Cal. After being kept under wraps — and on the sideline — the first two weeks, Tyree ran 17 times for 64 yards. He also caught five passes for 44 yards, including a 24-yard touchdown down the seam, a route we haven’t seen him run since he scored in the Fiesta Bowl. 

This offense looks different (i.e., vanilla) with Drew Pyne at quarterback. It also looks different when Tyree is involved. Keep it that way. There’s more for him to show. And do. 




It’s hard to highlight a single Tar Heel defender and say, watch out for that guy, when this unit is really not very good. In any phase. North Carolina ranks 111th in the nation in rush defense (193 yards per game), 112th in passing yards allowed per game (275.3), 119th in scoring defense (37.7 points per game) and 123rd in total defense (468.3 yards per game). What game is defensive coordinator Gene Chizik calling? 

North Carolina linebacker Cedric Gray is a really good player on a really shaky defense.

If there is someone to track Saturday, it might as well be Gray, a 6-foot-2, 230-pound junior from Charlotte who made 14 tackles in the wild win over Appalachian State, then 14 more in the win at Georgia State. He finished fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference last season with a team-high 100 tackles. He also had five tackles for loss, 2.5 sacks, three passes broken up, two interceptions, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery. 

It’s a tough unit to watch play defense, because they often don’t play any. Still, Gray is good. 

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Given the regular-season schedule included games against Ohio State, Brigham Young, Clemson and USC, Notre Dame was going to see its share of watch-out-for-that-guy guys on offense. 

Where has North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye been hiding?

A redshirt freshman quarterback from Carolina wasn’t supposed to be one of them. Now, he may be at the top of the list. 

Nobody saw this coming from Maye, who played in four games last season before shutting it down. Now, he seldom turns it off while turning it loose. Maye leads the ACC in total offense (1,076 yards), passing average (310 yards per game), efficiency (190.12) and completions (72). That's seven fewer passes than Notre Dame quarterbacks have attempted (79). Yikes. 

As a group, North Carolina leads the ACC in pass efficiency (188.18) and passing offense (310 yards per game). Maye is just back there playing a video game, finding different receivers to do different receiver things. The Tar Heels average 51.3 points per game, fourth in the nation, and 468.33 yards per game, which ranks fifth. 

If the Tar Heels’ offense gets in a groove, the Irish could be in for a long afternoon. 

— Tom Noie

Follow South Bend Tribune and NDInsider columnist Tom Noie on Twitter: @tnoieNDI. Contact: (574) 235-6153.