Notre Dame Football Preview: North Carolina

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Notre Dame Football Preview: North Carolina

North Carolina Rush Offense vs. Notre Dame Rush Defense

North Carolina has run 165 times to 101 passes; those numbers may be due to uncertainty at the quarterback position (see below). Their leading rusher is No. 8 Greg Little, a tall (6'3") converted receiver.

Little is averaging 13 carries and 44.6 yards per game. He also leads the team with 3 rushing touchdowns. Little has been known to direct snaps in a wildcat formation, but the Irish have shown much more success against that look than they did in last year's Georgia Tech game.

Little's backup is converted safety (can't they recruit running backs?) No. 20 Shaun Draughn. Draughn is averaging 9 carries and 41.2 yards per game. He has two touchdowns on the year, and his 4.7 yards per carry average looks much more respectable than Little's 3.3 at this point.

No. 87 Brandon Tate is one of several North Carolina receivers to register a rushing attempt on the season, so that's something else for the Irish to look for. Tate is averaging 2 carries and 28.6 yards per game. On the other hand, quarterback No. 11 Cam Sexton has been a non-factor in the run game.

North Carolina has thrived on running the ball and converting big plays on the ground and in the air. That points to a busy day for the Irish safeties. Kyle McCarthy and David Bruton can't be everywhere, and they'll need some help in the run game from the front seven if Notre Dame wants to win this one.

That means it's time for middle linebackers Maurice Crum and Brian Smith to step up and take over the game. On the year, Notre Dame is giving up 139 yards per game on the ground.


Notre Dame Rush Offense vs. North Carolina Rush Defense

Notre Dame's running game has again had an up-and-down season. Armando Allen is leading the way thus far with 10 carries and 47.6 yards per game. Robert Hughes is averaging 11-12 carries and 3.1 yards per game.

Each has two touchdowns on the ground. James Aldridge has become the third wheel of this trio, averaging 6 carries and 21 yards per game with no touchdowns.

The Tarheels are giving up 144.4 rushing yards per game this season, so there may be some hope for Allen and Hughes. Linebackers No. 41 Mark Paschal and No. 52 Quan Sturdivant lead the team with 41 tackles apiece, while Paschal has an impressive 5.5 tackles for a loss in five games. Breaking down the numbers, that's eight tackles per linebacker per game.

Cornerback No. 16 Kendric Burney and linebacker No. 54 Bruce Carter are next on the team with three TFL each. So keep your eyes on the talented UNC linebackers, but don't forget about Burney. Carter has also been a terror on special teams, blocking four kicks already.


North Carolina Pass Offense vs. Notre Dame Pass Defense

When quarterback 13 TJ Yates went down, it once again opened the door for Cam Sexton. Sexton shared starting responsibilities in 2006 before losing the job, barely saw the field at all in 2007, then started this year as the backup.

Sexton hasn't exactly set the world on fire this time around, but he has played well enough. His average day is 10 of 17 for 179.5 yards. Sexton has 3 touchdowns and an interception in two starts, and for what it's worth, both of those starts have been wins.

If Sexton struggles, though, No. 7 Mike Paulus may be an option. Paulus—brother of cager Greg—has played three games' worth of garbage time so far this year.

UNC's wide receivers are led by the talented 88 Hakeem Nicks, who is averaging 5 catches and 82.4 yards per game. Brandon Tate is averaging three catches and 75.2 yards per game, and No. 1 Brooks Foster is averaging two and 20.4.

Tight end 17 No. Zack Pianalto is averaging one catch and 11.2 yards per game. Tarheel running backs have only combined for four catches on the year, but that's no reason to forget about them.

Notre Dame is giving up 237.4 passing yards per game. North Carolina has three very talented receivers who have accounted for 3/4 of the teams' catches. It will be interesting to see how Notre Dame chooses to cover all three at once. Terrail Lambert, Raeshon McNeil, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton have rotated between the two outside spots, leaving Harrison Smith and Sergio Brown manning the slot receivers.

But Smith and Brown have struggled in man coverage, while Gray and Blanton have done well in their first year of collegiate competition. Will the Irish try to mix things up and take hybrid safety/linebackers Smith and Brown off the field to replace them with more talented corners? As the North Carolina backs and tight ends are not much of a factor in the passing game, that may be an option.


Notre Dame Pass Offense vs. North Carolina Pass Defense

Jimmy Clausen just keeps getting better every week. Clausen is now averaging 21 completions on 34 attempts and 249.6 yards per week. He's up to 12 touchdowns and six interceptions on the year, an improvement on his 6-and-6 mark two weeks ago.

Golden Tate and Michael Floyd have developed into Clausen's top options; each is averaging upwards of four catches per game. Tate is averaging 79.4 yards per game to Floyd's 66.6; each has three touchdown catches on the year.

Complementing Tate and Floyd are David Grimes and Armando Allen, each averaging three plus catches per game. Grimes is averaging 40.8 yards per game to Allen's 22.6. Kyle Rudolph is also becoming a key cog in the passing attack, averaging two catches and 27.2 yards per game.

Like their offense, North Carolina's defense thrives on big plays. Mark Paschal is truly the leader of the defense. In addition to leading the team in tackles and TFL, his two sacks are first on the team and two interceptions are second.

Safety 31 Trimane Goddard has four interceptions for a squad that has recorded 12 picks through five games. Jimmy Clausen has looked great in his last two games, but this is the type of defense that could make him look like a mortal sophomore again.


Special Teams

North Carolina has a pair of freshman place kickers, and the guy who plays on Saturday is the guy who performs better during the week. So far, No. 18 Jay Wooten has had the edge over No. 11 Casey Barth in practice and in games. Wooten has gone 4-6 with a long of 43. Barth has only made one of his 3 attempts a 31-yarder. For the Irish, Brandon Walker is now 1 for 7 on the year.

JUCO transfer Terrence Brown is back for a second year as the Tarheel punter. He's averaging 40.3 yards per punt and has a long of 53 yards. For Notre Dame, Eric Maust is averaging 42.0 yards per punt with a long of 52. Maust will have to be on his toes Saturday, as North Carolina has already blocked four punts in five games.

Brandon Tate has been North Carolina's primary kick returner, with some help from Hakeem Nicks. Tate is averaging 27.7 yards per return on 11 tries; Nicks 21.2 on four. Ryan Burkhart is averaging 62.2 yards per kickoff for the Irish. Couple that with an 15.7 yard return average given up by Notre Dame, and opponents are getting an average start on the 24.

Armando Allen and Golden Tate are sharing kick return responsibility for Notre Dame. Allen has returned three-fourths of the kicks for a 23.5 yard average; his long is 53 yards. Tate has a 20.8 yard average with a long of 28.

Jay Wooten has handled all of UNC's kickoffs, with a 61.3 yard average and 0 touchbacks. He's had his struggles, with 3 of 31 kicks going out of bounds. The Tarheels have been solid in kick coverage, giving up 17.4 yards per return. That in turn gives opponents an average start on the 26 yard line.

Brandon Tate is also NC's punt returner. He's averaging a spectacular 24.8 yards per return, with help from an 82 yard touchdown run. Armando Allen returns punts for the Irish. He's averaging 9.4 yards per return with a long of 22.


Notre Dame Players to Watch

Armando Allen, Michael Floyd, Brian Smith, Kyle McCarthy, Brandon Walker


Prediction

Notre Dame 28, North Carolina 24

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