I was expecting a North Carolina team that, despite heavy injuries and numerous new starters from a year ago, to show up and play a tough game in front of their home crowd. You could say the Tar Heels hung around for a bit and then were slowly strangled by the more talented and determined Irish. Once again, Notre Dame runs away with another victory and heads into the bye week an uplifting 5-1 on the season.

PASSING OFFENSE

Ian Book’s first career start could be broken up into 3 phases: First, a strong beginning, then a poor middle, and lastly a second half where he wasn’t asked to do much.

Book started the game 9 of 12 for 95 yards and a nice touchdown pass to Cam Smith to provide the game’s first score. He then finished the game 8 of 19 for 51 yards with no touchdowns and 2 interceptions.

The good was that Book looked entirely comfortable from the first snap, delivered mostly quick and accurate passes, and showed that in a couple years he’ll probably be good enough to start at a lot of Power 5 programs. The bad included a pair of turnovers and an inability to get the ball vertical down field. We’ll see if in the future the latter changes as the gameplans evolve for a more experienced quarterback.

The stat box shows a meager 38 receiving yards for Alize Mack but he did haul in a career-high 6 receptions, including 4 first down catches. He did have another bad drop on an inside screen, though.

Something doesn’t seem right with Equanimeous St. Brown and my gut instinct is to wonder about some sort of nagging injury. He was targeted 5 times on Saturday and only had 1 reception for 9 yards. That’s 15 catches through 6 games.

RUSHING OFFENSE

Ho hum, just another 300+ yards rushing, another long Josh Adams touchdown, and 3 more scores on the ground.

Player 1st/2nd Yes 1st/2nd No 3rd/4th Yes 3rd/4th No Total
McIntosh 7 2 2 1 75.0%
Adams 4 5 3 1 53.8%
Book 5 4 0 2 45.4%
Holmes 3 3 1 1 50.0%
Jones 4 3 0 2 44.4%
Smith 0 1 0 0 00.0%
Total 23 18 6 7 53.7%

 

To be fair, the Irish finished strong but really didn’t light the world on fire for large stretches of this game. The offense began the contest with only 1 successful run on their first 9 carries, for example. However, given the loss of Wimbush, all the banged up running backs, and some interesting play-calling the ground game persevered and got the job done.

This one of those games where success rate isn’t a huge deal if you can bust enough long runs (Adams’ long TD was plenty enough), convert enough short-yardage scenarios, and be successful on a high enough volume of runs. To put things into perspective, the 29 successful runs tied for the 2nd most of the Kelly-era with the 2012 Navy game.┬áIt also works well when you can trust your defense.

We’ve been tough on Deon McIntosh recently for being pretty mediocre but against North Carolina he put together perhaps the best non-Josh Adams performance from an Irish running back this season. He showed off good speed, improved vision, and ran incredibly angry on his way to 124 yards on just 12 carries. Thanks partially to injuries, McIntosh is now the second-leading rushing tailback on the team.

As noted prior to the game the team was going to burn true freshman running back C.J. Holmes’ redshirt, and while he picked up an offsides penalty on kickoff coverage, he looked modestly effective on his first 8 career carries.

I think it’s pretty clear that Tony Jones’ pass catching ability and/or all-around game is highly favored by the staff because as far as comparisons in strictly running the ball he might be 5th among the backs when this season is over. I’m not sure he has to be your backup when he’s only chipped in 3 catches for 9 yards on the season.

Book ended up being serviceable as a runner, finishing with 47 yards on 11 non-sack carries.

PASSING DEFENSE

To be blunt, North Carolina got smashed to bits trying to throw the ball and protect quarterback Chazzzzz Surratt. The Heels mustered 179 passing yards for a paltry 4.2 yards per attempt while allowing Surratt to be pressured an incredible 11 times.

Notre Dame finished with “only” 2 sacks but the pressure was constant all game and clearly affected North Carolina’s ability to run their offense smoothly.

I should also note that the Heels largely made a living off short horizontal passes and the Irish came up and tackled really well for short gains.

RUSHING DEFENSE

North Carolina lost a robust 19 yards on 2 sacks but even without considering those stats their ground game was entirely non-threatening and kept in check by the Irish. They finished the day with 86 net rushing yards and were only successful on 9 out of 26 carries.

Once again, if the Irish defense can keep any offense to only a third of successful runs they can win big against just about any team without great quarterbacking.

The ability to make a lot of plays in the backfield still isn’t great (5 tackles for loss) and this continues to be an area for improvement holding the defense back from becoming a nationally recognized unit.

SPECIAL TEAMS

While the game was close in the first half it felt like special teams–especially in the rain–could play a pivotal part in the outcome but it was another quiet day overall.

Yoon hit his only field goal and Newsome’s punting was solid. North Carolina out-kicked their coverage a couple times which allowed Chris Finke to total 44 yards on punt returns. The kickoff returns for both teams were pretty nondescript.

TURNING POINT

With just over 7 minutes left in the 3rd quarter Notre Dame took possession following a Book interception and quick 3 & out from the Heels. Book ran for 11 yards on first down and McIntosh followed it up with this 35-yard touchdown run to effectively seal the game.

McIntosh already has 4 career touchdowns!

3 STARS

  • Deon McIntosh
  • Julian Okwara
  • Jerry Tillery

FINAL NOTES

Even with 2 interceptions from Ian Book the Irish turnover margin remains quite healthy (+7 overall, tied-9th nationally) thanks to an incredible 14 forced turnovers through 6 games. Those takeaways are tied for 7th nationally and already match last year’s total for 12 games.

We have enough of a sample size for me to say that Julian Okwara may have the highest ceiling among the current defensive linemen, and maybe the entire defense. His numbers aren’t crazy to date (7 tackles, 2.5 TFL, 1.5 sacks, 5 QBH, 1 FF, 1 INT) but I also don’t think they do his impact justice.

We’re half way through the season and I’m not even sure what would be the biggest complaint with the safeties right now. That’s a credit to the coaching of Mike Elko.

If there’s a reason to be humbled by the offensive performance it was a modest 5.53 yards per play, the second worst performance of the season. That dropped the season average by two-tenths to 6.4 yards per play.

On the flip side, the 3.79 YPP on defense against North Carolina was a season-low for the Irish. That keeps the team at a very healthy +1.6 YPP differential on the season.

Perhaps the worst news from this game was the red zone stats being destroyed. Book’s touchdown pass came in the red zone, then the offense followed that up with a field goal, interception, and the game-ending kneel down in the red zone. That was the first red zone turnover of the season and now the TD percentage falls to 21/24 for 80.7% still good for 11th nationally.

This was a pretty ugly game for penalties, a combined 20 flags for 184 yards.

There were 3 really dumb things from this game. One, the Irish burning a timeout on a kickoff to then kick it short and give the Heels excellent field position. Two, going for it on 4th and a long 2 yards with an Ian Book sneak that was stuffed immediately. Three, North Carolina throwing a pass from their 1-yard line with 38 seconds left in the first half only to allow a safety on the very next snap.

Were there too few rushing attempts in the first half? Perhaps, the play-calling was pretty even with 26 runs and 23 passes before the break. In the “win to run” category the Irish finished the game with 64.7% runs thanks to a run heavy 2nd half featuring 31 rushes to 8 passes.