Top Players - A Closer Look: Notre Dame at North Carolina

October 8, 2017 Bryan Driskell, Football Analyst

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Photo by Bill Panzica

A look at the top players and some things that went right - and wrong - in Notre Dame's 33-10 victory over North Carolina.

TOP PLAYERS

Offense: RB Deon McIntosh - 12 carries, 124 yards, 10.3 avg., 2 TD's

After junior starter Josh Adams (13 carries for 118 yards and one touchdown) left the game early in the third quarter, the sophomore McIntosh stepped into the lineup at running back and took control.

McIntosh rushed for a career-high 124 yards on just 12 carries, all of which came in the third and fourth quarters. His 35-yard touchdown run gave the Irish breathing room at 26-7 midway through the third quarter, and then his 24-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter put the game away.

Defense: Defensive Line

Several players from the Irish defensive line made a case for player of the game, which is why the entire unit gets the game ball after a thorough shut down of the North Carolina offense.

The Tar Heels mustered just 86 yards on the ground (3.1 per rush) and 4.3 yards per pass attempt thanks to a line that was in the backfield all game long, finishing with 2.5 tackles for loss (one of which resulted in a safety), a sack and nine quarterback hurries.

UNC redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt was harassed all game long, leading to a pair of interceptions, seven passes broken up and a fumble.

Special Teams: P Tyler Newsome - 50.0 average

With the offense unable to get much going, the defense was aided by the punting of the senior, who averaged 50.0 yards on his six punts in the game.

Newsome’s final three punts of the first half pinned North Carolina at its 20-yard line or deeper, including a 43-yard boot that was downed at the 1-yard line late in the second quarter. Two plays later, the defense came up with a safety to give the Irish a 16-7 lead at the break.

A CLOSER LOOK

What Worked

Offensive Line Thrives: Notre Dame started its backup quarterback and played the game without junior running back Dexter Williams, who missed his second straight game while dealing with an ankle injury.

To make matters worse, Notre Dame lost starting senior right guard Alex Bars in the first half and standout junior running back Josh Adams was lost after just two carries in the third quarter.

A depleted lineup could not stop the Irish offense, which scored 31 offensive points and racked up 487 yards of total offense against North Carolina. The reason behind the continued dominance on offense — especially on the ground — is the play of the veteran offensive line.

It seems like a broken record at this point. In Notre Dame’s five wins, the run game has been the driving force behind the offense’s success, with the Irish averaging 358.6 rushing yards per game in its five victories.

The Irish pounded out 341 yards on 57 attempts (5.9 per carry) against the Tar Heels, with both Adams (118 yards) and sophomore Deon McIntosh (124) topping the 100-yard mark.

Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long tried to get sophomore quarterback Ian Book going early, and it worked for the most part. Book completed 8 of 11 passes for 89 yards in the opening quarter. He started to miss in the second quarter, though, completing just 6 of 14 passes during that 15 minutes.

That was when Long turned to the ground game, and it began with Adams ripping off a 73-yard touchdown run. Notre Dame ran a stretch play to the left, and Adams showed exceptional patience to allow the blocks to get set up and the UNC defense to over-pursue before cutting it up for the big gain.

Notre Dame put the game away in the second half rushing for 187 yards despite playing all but one series with its fourth- and fifth-string running backs, and its backup quarterback.

Defense Harasses Chazz Surratt: Notre Dame defensive coordinator Mike Elko made it a point to go after North Carolina redshirt freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt early and often, and the game plan paid off in a big way. The Tar Heels finished with only 265 total yards.

The game plan was obvious, attack the Tar Heel offensive line and don’t let Surratt get comfortable in the pocket.

North Carolina went three-and-out on its first five possessions and could never get into any kind of rhythm. Notre Dame controlled the line of scrimmage, and outside of a blown assignment on a quarterback read the Tar Heels did very little in the first three quarters outside of one drive.

The Irish defense had just five tackles for loss in the game, but it hit Surratt constantly, finishing the game with a season-high 11 quarterback hurries. In fact, it was over double the previous season high of five, which Notre Dame tallied against Georgia, Michigan State and Miami (Ohio).

It came from all over, with the line making a number of plays and Elko drawing up a number of pressures that proved impactful.

After the Notre Dame offense was stopped on a fourth-and-one, Elko immediately turned up the pressure, calling a cornerback blitz by junior cornerback Shaun Crawford on the first play of the ensuing possession. Crawford drilled Surratt for an eight-yard loss, and North Carolina punted three plays later.

What Didn’t Work

Pass Game Stalls: Book got off to a good start, but in the second and third quarter he struggled to keep his early rhythm. The Tar Heels made some adjustments, and the downfield routes that Notre Dame went to weren’t coming open.

In the final three quarters, the sophomore completed just 9 of 20 passes, including a pair of interceptions. His second interception came in the red zone, marking the first time all season Notre Dame failed to put points on the board after moving inside the opponent’s 20-yard line.

Book made enough plays to win the game, and he showed a lot of toughness for a young man making his first start, especially considering it came on the road. But his inability to get the ball to his receivers stalled drives and kept Notre Dame’s points down a bit in the game.

Cadence Issues Early On: It is typical for quarterbacks making their first starts to have issues with the cadence. When DeShone Kizer made his first start of the 2015 season the Irish had four false start penalties. Notre Dame had a false start on its first series during a 17-14 win over BYU in 2012, the first start then junior Tommy Rees made that season.

Notre Dame had three false starts against the Tar Heels, and the Irish line struggled to really get off the ball with a lot of authority early in the game. Once the line got used to Book its play picked up, but cadence issues did contribute to some of the early game struggles.

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