Tale of the Tape: Who has the edge when Notre Dame visits North Carolina?

Mike Berardino
ND Insider

WHEN NOTRE DAME HAS THE BALL

Like mentor Ian Book in 2017, Drew Pyne will make his first career road start at Kenan Stadium. Book was intercepted twice in that 33-10 win, but a 341-yard rushing output eased his burden. Pyne shook off a miserable start to complete 14 of his final 15 passes in last week’s win over Cal and could feast on a Tar Heels pass defense that is tied for 111th nationally in yards per attempt (8.3). Despite weak competition, UNC has allowed 11 touchdown passes already and ranks 119th in scoring defense (37.3 ppg) and 123rd in total defense (468 yards per game).

Notre Dame quarterback Drew Pyne (10) reacts to a flag during the Notre Dame vs. California NCAA football game Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Edge: Notre Dame

WHEN UNC HAS THE BALL

Redshirt freshman quarterback Drake Maye has picked up right where Sam Howell left off. The Tar Heels are sixth nationally in scoring offense (51.3 points per game), fifth in total offense and tied for ninth in rushing offense, in part because of Maye’s scrambling ability. Wide receiver Josh Downs, described as “crafty” by Notre Dame defensive coordinator Al Golden, is expected to play after missing two games with a lower body injury. Downs had 10 catches for 142 yards against the Irish last season but had just one catch in a reserve role in the 2020 meeting. Notre Dame, coming off a six-sack outburst in the win over Cal, ranks 53rd in scoring defense (21.3 ppg), 59th in total defense and is tied for 88th in rushing defense (4.34 yards per carry).

Edge: UNC

SPECIAL TEAMS

UNC is tied for fourth nationally with an efficiency grade of 90.1, per Pro Football Focus, while the Irish are 115th with a grade of just 60.4. The Tar Heels have blocked six punts or kicks since the start of last season. Senior punter Ben Kiernan, averaging 51.3 yards per punt, was born in Dublin, Ireland and lived there 15 years before moving to North Carolina. Irish punter Jon Sot, the Harvard grad transfer, has forced eight fair catches while dropping nine punts inside the 20 with just one touchback.  

Edge: UNC

COACHING

UNC coach Mack Brown had just finished his first season at Tulane (1-10 record in 1985) when Marcus Freeman was born. Brown, 71, ranks second only to Alabama’s Nick Saban in career coaching victories (268) among those still active. A College Football Hall of Fame inductee who led Texas to the 2005 national title, Brown has gone 24-17 since leaving a cushy studio gig at ESPN for a second tour of duty in Chapel Hill. This is his 34th season as a head coach. Likewise, Gene Chizik, who led Auburn to the 2010 national title, left ESPN last offseason for a second stint with the Tar Heels. Chizik’s title is assistant head coach for defense, but he has a pair of co-defensive coordinators (Tommy Thigpen and Charlton Warren) for good measure.

Edge: UNC

PREDICTIONS

TOM NOIE: North Carolina 38, Notre Dame 37 —It's already been an adventure of a ride for the Irish. Why should this game be any different?

MIKE BERARDINO: Notre Dame 40, North Carolina 30 — Another porous Tar Heel defense offers little resistance as the Irish make it 25 straight regular-season wins against ACC foes.

JUSTIN FROMMER: Notre Dame 31, North Carolina 26 Drew Pyne and the Notre Dame offense put up points against a porous UNC defensive unit to get to .500.

MICHAEL WANBAUGH: Notre Dame 34, North Carolina 31 — The Irish defense and offensive lines came alive late against Cal. They'll need to do it a little earlier against the Tar Heels.