We have finally reached that point in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish football offseason where we can talk about this year’s opponents without thinking about it all as an event still months away. The conference media days are underway (lol conference things) and camp is just right around the corner. So, we’re dedicating each day (other than Chick-fil-A Day) to Notre Dame’s 2021 opponents and starting off those days with a quick look preview. Join the conversation in the preview and the editorial in their respective comment sections and/or use the FanPost/FanShot feature to share something more in-depth.
Game 8 - Notre Dame vs. North Carolina
Where: Notre Dame Stadium
When: October 30th, 7:30 PM EST
How to Watch: NBC
Last season, UNC posted an 8-4 record, including their bowl game loss to Texas A&M in the Orange Bowl. They were touted as a very strong program, and they were supposed to be the main challenger to the Clemson Tigers in the ACC. Fast forward through the early stages of the pandemic, and we find the Irish to be added to the ACC ranks for one season. The ND-Clemson game was still on the books, but with an all-ACC schedule +1 set for all teams in the conference, the Irish and the Tar Heels were able to play. This was still pretty much considered to be the second place game for who would join Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. However, with the Irish beating Clemson, UNC was still fighting for that second place spot, just not necessarily with Notre Dame.
Sam Howell was their quarterback, and he still will be for the 2021 season. He is a very solid quarterback that has a ton of support from his offensive line (which we will see a lot of the same guys again in 2021), and he was getting press as one of the best QBs in college football. He was also putting up some pretty damn good numbers, including finishing last season (his second season) with two more TDs than Trevor Lawrence had in his first two seasons.
Sam Howell is unfair in the 4th quarter pic.twitter.com/K1Ht2e4Efm— PFF College (@PFF_College) November 19, 2020
But, all of that was set aside eight days after this tweet when UNC had to host the Irish. Clark Lea’s defense shook the UNC offense and Sam Howell. The explosive offense we kept hearing about managed just 2 TDs in the game, getting totally shut out in the second half in the process — and that was after Kyle Hamilton was ejected for targeting. The second half shutout saw (mostly) D.J. Brown in Hamilton’s spot. Howell went 17-27 for 211 yards - ok but definitely not great or that top caliber that we had heard about.
Notre Dame - UNC All-Time
As we can see, the Irish have overall dominated this series historically. UNC won their one game against the Irish in 1960. They actually won another one in 2008 in Chapel Hill against Jimmy Clausen’s offense, but that was one of their vacated wins from that era. Besides the 2020 game, the Irish won in Chapel Hill in 2017 and also in Notre Dame Stadium in 2014.
Tar Heel Hype*
*Spring Game Highlights
The Top 3 Players
Sam Howell - QB
I know that ND’s defense absolutely shut him down last season, but it is very hard to ignore his stats. Howell is a very good quarterback with a lot of preseason hype again.
Jeremiah Gemmel - LB
Gemmel is a linebacker for the Tar Heels that has been pretty dominant at his position. He had 78 tackles and 2 interceptions last season. He is returning, and he will be a part of a veteran linebacking core that will help out the Tar Heel defense.
Ty Chandler - RB
Chandler is a grad transfer from Tennessee. He had a solid season last year with 100 carries for 456 yards and 4 TDs. In the two years prior, had had over 600 yards in each season. Chandler provides some experience in the Tar Heel backfield, but he will need to step up to fill in for Michael Carter and Javonte Williams.
UNC is returning a lot of experience, particularly on offense. I think Sam Howell will still be a force to be reckoned with. However, I do not buy into the preseason Heisman hype that he currently has. Mainly, I see their third place finish in the ACC while losing 4 games as what is holding me up overall. They definitely have some strengths, but the Irish defense exposed those strengths last season. I could see that being the case again. And, this time, the game will be played in Notre Dame Stadium with a full crowd (on a Saturday*). I definitely can respect the talent that the Tar Heels bring, but I am overall confident in the Fighting Irish’s ability to take care of business in this game. Plus, we don’t know exactly what the season will look like up to that point, but the Irish could very likely be coming off a home win against USC in the week prior. If everyone is firing on all cylinders, I could see this one shaking out like the 2020 game did - somewhat of a nail biter, but the Irish dominate and take it running away at the end of the game.
*The 2020 contest was played the day after Thanksgiving
Difficulty 1-10: 7
Early Win or Loss Prediction: Win