For North Carolina, the 2017 football season is not playing out as many had hoped. Were the expectations unreasonably lofty and unattainable? Most certainly not, but limping to a 1-4 start wasn’t even on the radar, either.
By now, I’m sure you’ve heard that the injury list for the Tar Heels reads like a multi-volume crime novel. The latest edition includes 13 players out for the season with six more listed as questionable for the match up against Notre Dame.
Even with those troubles, the season must go on and the Fighting Irish visit Chapel Hill on Saturday. As the official Twitter account of North Carolina football says “The grind don’t stop.”
The good thing (if there is anything) to come out of the performance from last weekend, is that there is really only one way for the Tar Heels to move: up. Every phase of the team seemed to falter towards the end of the game.
Chazz Surratt had, what many consider, the worst showing of his young career (one-upping his low performance against Duke). Going 18 for 30 passing and 141 yards with an interception, he never seemed to get into a rhythm. The absence of the rushing game didn’t help, either.
For North Carolina to have any sort of fighting chance this weekend, they must find a way to get the passing game to open lanes for the rushing. Surratt must dig deep down to find the confidence he has displayed at certain times this season. He will also need to quickly get on the same page with the remaining receivers he has. This won’t be easy with an Irish defense that has not allowed an opposing team to score more than 20 points this season. Notre Dame is allowing an average of just over 140 yards per game on the ground which is right around what the Tar Heels themselves are averaging in each contest. North Carolina will have their hands full against a front seven that seems to stay around the quarterback with guys on the line like Jay Hayes, Daelin Hayes, Julian Okwara and linebackers Nyles Morgan and Drue Tranquill. The secondary has gotten a lot of love because of the way they hawk to the ball and make any pass a dangerous one.
Defensively, North Carolina will look to stop a Notre Dame offense that has seemed to steamroll through all of its opponents, except for Georgia, putting up an average of 41 points per game. Josh Adams has been an absolute monster out of the backfield for the Irish. Racking up over 700 yards of offense and multiple touchdowns, Adams will not be an easy task for the Tar Heels to slow down. However, there was recent news of an injury to starting Quarterback Brian Wimbush, who is also the second-leading rusher for Notre Dame. Head Coach Brian Kelly has stated that Wimbush will be a game-time decision. If he cannot go, Ian Book will be under center. That would make the Irish even more one-dimensional than they already have been.
Any way you slice it, this is going to be a terribly tough game for the Tar Heels to manage. The power of the rushing game for the Irish against a defense that seems to get lost at times can spell bad news. Align that with North Carolina’s offense that is struggling to find its next play maker and this end up being one of those game you check on every-so-often, but elect not to actually witness.
Prediction: North Carolina will get on the board, but it won’t matter much as the Fighting Irish roll away with this one 35-10.