You have questions, we got some answers. It’s time to learn a little bit about Carolina’s opponent this weekend, the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame. For that, I traded questions with Patrick Sullivan, editor over at One Foot Down. You can check him out on Twitter, @PSully226.
One quick note, we completed this back and forth before news of Wimbush’s injury was confirmed by Coach Brian Kelly on Tuesday. He hasn’t been ruled out yet, but as Pat points out, he’s by far not the only player Carolina has to worry about.
1) Overall, how happy are fans about this team? Has Brian Kelly's seat been cooled with the wholesale changes he made and the results so far?
For the moment, everyone is pretty damn happy. After a miserable 4-8 season, Notre Dame has come out this year and absolutely destroyed the 4 mediocre-to-bad opponents it has played (outscoring Temple, BC, MSU, and Miami Ohio 188-71), and lost by 1 -- in a game the Irish should have won -- to the current #5 team in the country, Georgia.
I think the answer about Brian Kelly's seat cooling would definitely depend on who you talk to, though. I know people who are watching this team and proclaiming that Kelly's big offseason changes and coaching hires are clearly paying dividends and ND is on its way back to the top. Others of us are a little more pessimistic/grounded, and realize that the Irish have played one good team, Georgia, and managed to lose at home to them in their true freshman quarterback's first-ever start.
I'm waiting until the second half of the season to say Kelly's seat has cooled. The Irish will face USC, Stanford, NC State, and Navy, and we will know a lot more about Kelly's future at that point. However, I will admit that I think Kelly knocked it out of the park with his hiring of Mike Elko as defensive coordinator. His group isn't elite or anything, but to take a defense that looked absolutely hapless last year under Brian VanGorder and turn it into a disciplined, fundamentally-sound, bend-but-don't-break defense is nothing short of spectacular.
No matter what happens to Kelly, I hope ND can hold on to that guy. He knows what he's doing.
2) Who should Carolina fans fear the most on offense and defense?
On offense, Carolina should fear Josh Adams. He is an absolute beast at running back who currently ranks 4th in the nation in rushing yards despite having sat out 6 quarters of play through the first 5 games. If he gets to the second level, do NOT expect the Tar Heels defense to be able to do anything except watch helplessly as he uses devastating stiff arms and a breathtaking second gear to break off long touchdown runs.
On defense, it's gotta be a mixture of a few different guys. Defensive linemen Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes (no relation), and Julian Okwara are all extremely fast and athletic guys who can get to the quarterback, while linebackers Nyles Morgan and Drue Tranquill are absolute trucks when they hit people. Meanwhile, Julian Love is about as sound of a cornerback as you'll see (6 passes broken up this season, one HUGE pick-six against Michigan State), so the Tar Heels may want to resist throwing in his direction.
Finally, diminutive defensive back Shaun Crawford is the best playmaker on the Irish defense, and despite his size he is an absolute menace in terms of forcing turnovers and completely changing games. He already has 2 interceptions, a forced fumble, a recovered fumble, and half a sack despite standing at just 5'9" and not even being a starter.
3) What would have to go wrong for Carolina to win this game?
If the Irish can't run the ball on offense and give up a few big plays on defense, I could see Carolina winning this one.
Irish QB Brandon Wimbush has been marginally better the past couple games in terms of passing, but he still is about as inconsistent as can be, and has only thrown for more than 200 yards once this season. So, with the 7th-best rushing offense in the country, ND is pretty damn one-dimensional. If North Carolina can force Wimbush to win the game with the pass, they just might force enough three-and-outs and have just enough opportunities to create turnovers to win the game.
On the other side of the ball, Mike Elko's defense has managed to give up very few points while giving up a lot of yardage to opponents. If the Tar Heels can convert in the red zone, as well as string together a few big plays (ND's defense has given up very few of those this season), they may be able to score enough points to force a run-first team into a shootout, which the Irish definitely do not want.
4) Is there anyone at Carolina that you are scared of?
I'll be honest, I haven't seen UNC play this season, so I do not have much knowledge on who to be scared of out there.
However, in just looking at stats, Chazz Surratt looks like a dangerous QB capable of beating you with his arm or his legs, and so that definitely worries me. Furthermore, I see 4 UNC receivers have had catches of at least 40 yards this season, and so I'm definitely worried about a couple of those guys (Anthony Ratliff-Williams, Jordan Cunningham, Dazz Newsome) getting behind the ND safeties (Nick Coleman and Jalen Elliott) who haven't been tested much vertically for big gains.
Defensively, I think MJ Stewart is clearly the man out there for the Tar Heels. He leads the team in sacks as a DB, and is just a a guy I can see flying off the edge and blindsiding Wimbush for a big sack-fumble that changes the momentum of the game. I hope ND's line and running backs will be ready to pick him up in pass blocking.
5) The last couple of meetings between the two teams have seen a ton of offense, are you expecting a similar result?
Yes, I think so. I believe ND will have similar success running the ball to what they've had against everyone not named Georgia, and I think Chazz Surratt and co. will put up some points despite the ND defense's best efforts to limit the big plays.
It might actually come down to which team can string together a couple stops, because otherwise I don't see either team struggling TOO much to put up points.
6) How many people are you expecting to travel to Chapel Hill for this game? Will it be a de facto road game for Carolina?
Notre Dame always travels well, so I am sure there will be a sizable contingent of ND fans at Chapel Hill.
With that said, no, I do not think it will become a road game for UNC. Between the 4-8 season last year and UNC being 1-4 right now, I bet a lot of ND fans not living in the area will watch from home and plan to be there in person for other, bigger games this season.
7) What would surprise Carolina fans about this team?
I think the speed ND has in the backfield is probably something a team from the ACC isn't necessarily expecting. Josh Adams in the open field will outrun almost anyone (averages 9 yards per carry), and backup running back Dexter Williams, assuming he's healthy, is probably faster and quicker (averages nearly 11 yards per carry), if not as strong and explosive as Adams.
Additionally, Brandon Wimbush can RUN. He may be struggling with his passing a bit, but the dude has 402 yards and 8 TD, and is averaging about 6 yards per carry. The amount of speed and shiftiness ND has back there is downright lethal if the Irish offensive line is able to create even the slimmest of running lanes.
8) Who do Notre Dame fans consider to be their biggest rival. As an Independent, it feels like that answer is always a little inconsistent.
Without question, it's USC.
Michigan we hate and don't respect enough to call a rival, and although the history is there with Michigan State and Purdue, neither of them has enough of a long and storied tradition of winning in football to compare to ND's, while USC, as much as we hate them, absolutely does.
9) What do fans think about finally joining the ACC in all aspects? With conference consolidation it feels like fewer teams have an opening to put ND on their schedule, and they have been a great addition in other sports. How happy are they being in the ACC?
The current arrangement is as much ACC membership as Irish fans want for the football team, period. The program's excellence and power and tradition all came about because ND was blackballed by the Big 10 due to Michigan being terrified to play the Irish, so ND was forced to be independent and play a national schedule against USC, Texas, Navy, Army, etc.
As far as all other sports, I definitely agree that the ACC has been an awesome fit. Both of our basketball programs are thriving, it makes sense for lacrosse and soccer, and just generally it feels like the ACC has been a great new home for those programs.
But as far as football goes, as long as ND doesn't get penalized by the playoff committee some season for not playing a conference title game, and as long as ND can continue to schedule the usual lineup of USC, Stanford, MSU/Michigan, one or two ACC powers, and then random big-time opponents like Georgia, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc., there is just no reason for ND to force itself to play a more regional schedule and join a conference completely.
10) Do Notre Dame fans REALLY cherish Rudy as much all of us are led to believe or at this point is it mostly to just troll everyone?
We do cherish Rudy, but not really the actual guy and his life story. It's been made clear since that movie that the real Rudy was kind of a joke in his time at ND, and has proven to be a terrible person later in his life.
Instead, every ND fan connects with the idea of having that dream of attending Notre Dame, refusing to give up on it, and eventually accomplishing it. Hell, even in a broader sense, I think people just connect with a character accomplishing something that EVERYONE said he couldn't do, despite the passion and drive he had to get it done. That's something we can all relate to and all cherish, even if the real guy is a bad dude.
I just like to convince myself that Sean Astin is actually the real Rudy, and find the whole movie much easier to love unconditionally when I remember what Astin accomplished in The Goonies and in Lord of the Rings.
11) To reciprocate the Nickelodeon Game Show Theme, you have to pick two players for Double Dare. Who goes and why?
I'm picking Equanimeous St. Brown and Shaun Crawford.
St. Brown is a super-smart guy who speaks three languages and would just destroy the opponent in the trivia portion of the game.
Crawford is pretty bright himself, but where he will excel most is in the physical portion, because his combination of speed, athleticism, and small size will allow him to navigate any sort of obstacle course with ease. Those two together would crush it.
12) Prediction time: Who wins, what's the score, and why?
Notre Dame wins this one. I think Elko's defense plays well but does give up a couple big plays, while the Notre Dame offense does mostly what it wants on the ground and Josh Adams has another huge day, along with a couple LONG runs from Dexter Williams. UNC will score some points, but in the end, the Irish will wear the Tar Heels down and win 44-28.
13) Notre Dame traditions are probably more widely known that any other school, what's one that folks don't know about?
You mean besides my friends and I drinking a bunch of Hamm's Premium before the game?
I'm going to go with my personal favorite, which takes place between the third and fourth quarter of every home game in South Bend. He is now retired from doing it, but former Indiana State Police Sgt, Tim McCarthy would get on the P.A. system at this point in every home game and deliver a safety message, imploring everyone to be safe when they drive home, not to drive drunk, be sure to buckle seat belts, etc. He would always end it with an absolute groaner of a pun, and when he did, the entire stadium would go nuts, because we all loved it so much. He did this for every home game from 1960 to the middle of the 2015 season, ending it with this one:
Now, with McCarthy having delivered his last safety message, ND has been recycling recordings of his old speeches, and then this season, with the new jumbotron, they have shown pre-recorded videos of Notre Dame personalities (Joe Theismann, Muffet McGraw, Mike Brey, etc.) reading them off.
Their delivery isn't as impeccable as McCarthy's was, but it's still a fun way to keep the tradition alive. LONG LIVE TIM MCCARTHY'S SAFETY MESSAGE PUNS! The man is the G.O.A.T.