Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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38 NOV. 27, 2020 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI DAMAGE CONTROL On Oct. 11, 2014, the 5-0 and No. 6 Fighting Irish defeated North Caro- lina 50-43 in what was the highest scoring game ever at Notre Dame Sta- dium — and the most points tallied between Notre Dame and its oppo- nent in regulation time. (Texas won 50-47 at home versus the Irish in the 2016 opener, but that was with two overtime sessions included.) Entering that tilt against the Tar Heels, Notre Dame first-year defen- sive coordinator Brian VanGorder was lauded for helping take the unit to "the next level," having allowed only 12 points per game in those first five outings, highlighted by a 31-0 shutout of Michigan and a 17-14 vic- tory versus No. 14 Stanford the week prior to facing the Tar Heels. However, an up-tempo, no-huddle offense by North Carolina began to expose the cracks in VanGorder 's highly complex defensive founda- tion. The opposition started to use that blueprint, and it resulted in a tumultuous time and VanGorder 's firing four games into the 2016 cam- paign after a 1-3 start. The 2020 version of North Carolina's offense is even stronger than the 2014 outfit that was 6-7 — but fortunately so is Notre Dame's 2020 defense that has hovered among the top 10 all year in most every major category. In the five contests from Oct. 10 through Nov. 7, and entering the Nov. 14 game versus Wake Forest, the Tar Heels had averaged 46 points per game with one of the most pro- lific offenses in the country. This in- cluded a 56-45 shootout victory ver- sus Virginia Tech, but also a 44-41 defeat at Virginia. How potent is the attack? Senior running back Michael Carter rushed for 773 yards at 7.3 yards per carry during the Tar Heels' 5-2 start after a 1,000-yard output last season — and he is merely the second-best back in the arsenal behind Javonte Williams. Meanwhile, sophomore quarter- back Sam Howell is already projected as a future first-round selection, just as Clemson freshman D.J. Uiagalelei has been. Through seven games, North Car- olina was averaging 537.9 yards of total offense while in the extremely rare air of averaging both nearly 300 passing yards (298.4) and more than 200 rushing yards (239.4). Similar to then No. 1-ranked Clem- son's visit to Notre Dame on Nov. 7, this is not an issue of whether North Carolina is capable of scoring. It's more about limiting the Tar Heels to field goals rather than touchdowns. The Fighting Irish defense forced Clem- son to kick four field goals, including a couple in the red zone that helped keep them in striking distance and to send the game into overtime at 33-33. Under third-year Notre Dame defen- sive coordinator Clark Lea, it marked only the second time in 33 games that the opponent surpassed the 30-point barrier against the stout and funda- mentally sound Fighting Irish defense. We have said it dozens of times: De- fense in today's world of college foot- ball is not about dominance, but dam- age control. Keeping North Carolina to less than 30 points would qualify as a quality performance, and a highly probable shot at winning the game. MORE RARE AIR Second-year North Carolina head coach Mack Brown, who turned 69 in August, is one of only six active coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivi- sion who have won a national title at this level. GAME PREVIEW: NORTH CAROLINA Top STorylineS Senior Michael Carter, the Tar Heels' No. 2 running back, racked up 773 rushing yards at 7.3 yards per carry in the first seven games of the season. PHOTO COURTESY NORTH CAROLINA

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