Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 14, 2020

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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8 NOV. 14, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED UNDER THE DOME The Eagles Catch The Irish At An Ideal Time By Todd D. Burlage My colleague, Lou Somogyi, tips his hand during this debate of whether North Carolina or Boston College is the more dangerous upcoming Notre Dame opponent when he says "if the Tar Heels can find any semblance of a defense," North Carolina is more threatening. The counter to Lou's hypothetical is that so far this season, the Tar Heels have demonstrated nothing that resembles "any semblance of a defense," so why would they suddenly discover one against Notre Dame? During its final four games to close October, North Carolina gave up an average of 35.3 points per game — including 45 to Virginia Tech and 44 to Virginia, the latter a more offensively chal- lenged opponent — which indicates the Tar Heels defense is sliding, not improving. Meanwhile, Notre Dame enters the Boston College game after playing top-ranked Clemson in what was the most-hyped and most-draining regular-season matchup of the 11-year Brian Kelly Irish coaching era, making the matchup with the Eagles an obvious "trap" or "letdown" game. Add the intriguing side story of former Irish quarterback Phil Jurkovec — who has emerged this season as one of the better quarterbacks in the ACC after transferring to Boston College — playing against his former team, and the odds of a tight game and/or upset become magnified. On Oct. 31, Jurkovec led his Eagles to a 28-10 lead at top-ranked Clemson before eventually losing the game by six points, proving he and his Eagles are well equipped to deliver a similar performance and upset opportunity against Notre Dame. The Tar Heels Possess Better Balance By Lou Somogyi Nobody likes to review or study college football history more than yours truly, so it is understandable why there might be some angst among Fighting Irish faithful when having to travel to Boston College the week after having faced the No. 1 team in the country. Regardless, North Carolina poses a more serious threat for at least two reasons. First is the balance on offense. Whereas Bos- ton College is over-reliant on quarterback Phil Jurkovec with his arm and legs on scrambles — leading rusher David Bailey averaged only 43 rushing yards per game during the 4-3 start — the Tar Heels, while starting 4-2, averaged 309 passing yards and 223 rushing yards, with running backs Javonte Williams and Michael Carter each averaging more than 100 yards per contest at about seven yards per carry. Sopho- more quarterback Sam Howell could be a future first-round pick. No team is going to thrive against this Irish defense with a one-dimensional attack. Second, whereas first-year head coach Jeff Hafley is first trying to build at Boston College, former national champion and second-year head coach Mack Brown is attempting to take the Tar Heels to legitimate top-15 to top-25 status. They were way overrated at one point this year at No. 5, but learning from that "too much, too soon" setback should be an aid in future focus. Both North Carolina and Notre Dame have a bye Nov. 21 before meeting the day after Thanksgiving, so that should be a wash for this meeting. If the Tar Heels can find any semblance of a defense in that time, they will be even more dangerous. Point ✦ Counterpoint: WHO HAS A BETTER CHANCE TO UPSET NOTRE DAME: BOSTON COLLEGE OR NORTH CAROLINA? As a productive starting de- fensive back, an emotional team leader and a former team cap- tain during his four seasons at NC State (2016-19), Nick McCloud brought plenty of experience and talent to the Notre Dame secondary when he announced a transfer to his new school as a graduate student last May. Following the roster losses for Notre Dame last season of reli- able safety captains Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman, along with 2020 NFL Draft pick Troy Pride Jr. — coupled with some recruiting misses in recent cycles among Irish defensive backs — Mc- Cloud provided an immediate plug-and-play option for the Notre Dame coaches to call on for a quick fix in a position pinch. But blending McCloud's ongoing recovery from a knee injury he suffered in October 2019 during his senior season at NC State with offseason workout constraints because of campus closure and CO- VID-19 constraints — all while acclimating himself to a new working environment and routine — didn't necessarily make for the smoothest transition. McCloud recently spoke about the challenges he faced after arriving at Notre Dame in August and how he handled his change of scenery. BGI: What do you remember about the acclimation process when you arrived at Notre Dame? McCloud: "The biggest thing for me when I first came in was just coming back from my knee injury. I wasn't able to do a lot at home, so just getting back into shape from that — because I wasn't lifting or running — was a challenge." BGI: How did you handle the transition with all of the unex- pected and unusual forces you faced? McCloud: "I really just tried to be myself when I got to campus. I didn't really want to try to do too much or try to make myself fit in. As far as COVID, it was kind of tough, seeing everybody in masks, not seeing everybody's face, not recognizing everybody. "But I feel like I made up for what everybody missed once we started working out, and that made it a lot easier." BGI: You played against Notre Dame while at NC State; what were your impressions? McCloud: "I had played them two times in '16 and '17. We beat them in '16 [10-3 in hurricane conditions at Raleigh, N.C.] and they beat us pretty bad in '17 [35-14 in South Bend], so I had a lot of respect for Notre Dame as a program at that point. "And, of course, the tradition of Notre Dame [stands out], so I definitely had a lot of respect [for the program]." BGI: What is your approach to preparing for an opposing receiver? McCloud: "Just really focusing in on their re- leases with me — trying to get up and press, focused on their speed, seeing how fast they are if they can challenge me deep. "Then really just trying to get in and out of routes and splits and everything like that." BGI: During camp and practice at Notre Dame, who has been your toughest matchup or cover? McCloud: "I was really messed up with Javon [McKinley, a fifth-year senior wide receiver] when I came and we started camp, because Kevin [Aus- tin, a junior wide receiver] was hurt. "Me and Javon really went at it. I feel like he made me better, I made him better, so it was good competition there." — Todd D. Burlage Five Questions With … NOTRE DAME FIFTH-YEAR SENIOR CORNERBACK NICK MCCLOUD McCloud started five of the first six games for the Irish and led the team with five passes broken up. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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