Even against a struggling Notre Dame team, North Carolina can finally find a definitive answer it hasn’t gotten in its previous three wins. Yes, the Tar Heels are undefeated, but are they good?
A win over the Irish (1-2) might be the barometer the Heels need to figure it out.
Notre Dame played Ohio State tough in the opener before falling 21-10. But a 26-21 home opener loss to Marshall sent the Fighting Irish and first-year coach Marcus Freeman into an early-season upset.
The Irish have major issues on offense, where they have scored just three points in the first quarter in three games and are averaging just 18 points per game.
Despite Notre Dame’s troubles, Carolina could gain some confidence with a win in its final non-conference game before ACC play begins. The Heels blew double-digit leads against App State (41-21) and Georgia State (21-3) before escaping with two road wins.
UNC coach Mack Brown said he hoped the Tar Heels’ time off would allow some starters to return to the lineup. Receiver Antoine Green, who has been out since mid-August with a shoulder injury, was catching back passes before the Tar Heels’ win over Georgia State. There is a chance the senior could return to the lineup against the Irish.
Junior wide receiver Josh Downs, who led the team in receptions and receiving yards last season, has not played since suffering a knee injury in the opener against Florida A&M. Offensive tackle Spencer Rolland missed their win over the Panthers with a lower-body injury.
If the Heels have all three available for Notre Dame, it would mark their first game at full offense this season.
Stopping force against a moving object
Notre Dame’s offense ranks 114th nationally among 131 FBS teams in total offense, averaging just 300.3 yards per game. Carolina’s defense ranks 123rd in total defense allowing an average of 468 yards per game.
Something has to give. Will this be the game and team where the Tar Heels defense puts together a complete game and shuts down their opponent? Or will it be the game that brings the Irish attack to life? The answer will likely determine who wins.
Three Notre Dame players to watch
Drew Pyne, QB: Starting quarterback Tyler Buchner was injured and lost for the season at Marshall, prompting Pyne to take over at center. Saturday’s game against Carolina will be just the third-year starter’s second career start.
Isaiah Foskey, VYP: The 6-foot-5, 265-pound junior plays the hybrid “Vyper” position in the Irish lineup, where he’s essentially a standup defensive end but can drop to linebacker. He leads the Irish with 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.
Howard Cross III, DT: It’s rare for a linebacker to lead the team in tackles, but the 6-foot-1, 276-pound junior is doing just that for the Irish. He is arguably the best player UNC’s offensive line has seen so far this season.
Three UNC players to watch
Drake Maye, QB: Now that each team has played three games, Maye’s numbers still hold. He is tied for the national lead with Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Tulsa’s Davis Brin with 11 touchdown passes. He ranks eighth nationally in passing efficiency and 11th with 310 yards per game.
Kaimon Rucker, DE: According to Pro Football Focus, Rucker graded out as the fourth-best running back nationally through three games. Rooker had the assist on the game-saving two-point conversion stop against the run situation.
Kobe Paysour, WR: The redshirt freshman has emerged as Maye’s most reliable target. Paysour has started the last two games in Josh Down’s absence and currently leads the team with 14 catches for 172 yards.
UNC vs. Notre Dame game and TV info
WHERE: UNC (3-0) vs. Notre Dame (1-2)
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
Never: 15:30, Saturday
Vegas betting odds
The Tar Heels are a 1.5-point favorite, according to the Vegas Insider consensus line.