If you were to ask me 24 hours ago if a loss to the second-best team in the country would be a frustrating one, I more than likely would have said no. Somehow, however, it was indeed just that, and a lot of it has to do with Notre Dame’s ability to shut down UNC’s offense after today’s game looked like it was going to be a shootout. Both defenses stepped up and got stops, but unfortunately the Irish made just enough plays to keep their undefeated streak alive.
The Tar Heels gave everyone reason to feel a bit more optimistic about how things would go from the very start of this game. They managed to stop Notre Dame on their first drive, and then utilized their excellent field position to score a touchdown off a Sam Howell to Emery Simmons pass. The Irish responded right away by scoring a touchdown of their own, which prompted the Heels to march down the field and serve another blow in the form of Sam Howell rushing into the end zone.
Here’s where I can save us some time. Here are the rest of UNC’s drives in the game: punt, punt, field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt. The Heels only managed to move the ball more than 12 yards in two drives after the second touchdown. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams essentially got shutout in the second quarter, with Williams gaining the only four yards between the two. Howell was under attack in the pocket for most of the night, the wide receivers were pretty well covered as well. Needless to say, Phil Longo and his unit had a very bad day.
On the defensive side of the ball, things actually looked promising after Notre Dame tied things up 14-14. I expected the Irish to blow the door off of this game once UNC’s offense stalled out, but more or less Jay Bateman’s squad held their own against a very good offense. Ian Book was extremely elusive in the pocket and made the defense work for every single tackle/sack. One thing that came up early in the game is the fact that it is not a good idea to let him play playground football, and at times the Heels let him do just that. Perhaps the most infuriating moment was when it looked like Book was going to take a sack, and instead he flicks the ball out to a receiver for the completion.
Still, the Irish finished the game with 478 total yards, which isn’t the worst thing considering how good their offense is. Kyren Williams more or less performed as expected, finishing with 124 yards off 23 carries and ran the ball in for two touchdowns. To shed some light on that statistic: he had the same amount of carries against Clemson and finished with 143 yards and three touchdowns. The defense deserves credit for holding up their end of the bargain the best that they could against an offense that ranks 24th in the country in total offense (which shows improvement when you consider that Wake Forest ranks 33rd in that department).
Finally, let’s discuss the elephant in the room: the penalties. UNC was called for nine penalties that cost them 90 yards. Perhaps the most back-breaking penalty was on fourth and short when Notre Dame lined up to convert and they made the Heels jump offsides. That was followed up by a defensive pass interference call on Tony Grimes on a deep pass, which was shortly followed by a Notre Dame touchdown. Sure, we can talk about how the Irish didn’t get called for nearly as many penalties as they should have, but the fact of the matter is that these mistakes can’t happen against one of the best teams in the country. I wouldn’t be surprised if Mack Brown brings it up a lot before next week’s game against Western Carolina.
To sum things up, this game had arguably a predictable result with unpredictable events that led to it. Never would I have expected the offense to finish the fourth quarter with a total of 35 yards, but here we are. Next week’s game should be significantly easier, but the goal from here on out is simple: make an example out of Western Carolina, rest up, and find some way to finish the season on a high note against No. 10 Miami.