Here we are, gathered together to usher Notre Dame football into Week 4 of the 2022 season. It’s been very interesting and at the same time terrifying for me to be taking in ND football and GOT’s House of the Dragon at the same time.
I was a late start to both of them, only really punching my ND fan card in 2008 and starting GOT around Season 2. My experiences with both have been rocky. There were times during my senior year (the Irish’s 2012 season) and GOT Season 6 that I thought the ride just couldn’t get any better. Then there were the low points like that 2011 season opener loss to South Florida and the vast majority of GOT Season 7.
But here I am in 2022, through it all, still spending so much of my weekends committed to both. Sunday’s episode of House of the Dragon has been my favorite so far but also one that makes me kind of uncomfortable. Most of this discomfort isn’t centered around anything that happened in the episode persay but more on what the “Red Wedding” companion might bode for Notre Dame football this week.
I’m not much of a superstitious person but the rollercoaster that these two interests have put me on over the years drives a man to odd places. We saw a lot of really promising things out of this season’s Irish football team last week but there are still a ton of wildcards at play that could definitely mimic on the field the level of chaos that made the last House of the Dragon episode so great.
So let’s see what the data has to tell us about what we can expect out of ND’s matchup against the North Carolina Tar Heels. Through the teams’ 22 game history, the last legit win came in 1960, so the long arch of time is in the Irish’s favor. Digging more into the now, though, is where things start to get kind of tricky. UNC is coming into the game undefeated (3-0). That 3-0 record is really hard to evaluate if for no other reason than the weird nature of the Tar Heel’s Week 1-3 schedule. They kicked everything off with a 56-24 win against FAMU, who entered the season contending with administrative issues. UNC then pulled out a 63-61 victory over Appalachian State who none of us really have a clue about what we’re watching at this point. Week 3 produced a 35-28 win against Georgia State who is 0-3 and last in all of the Sun Belt. On paper, Week 3 ended up being the team’s worst outing so far.
The Tar Heels most defining characteristic this season has been its offense’s ability to put up points. Through three games so far, UNC has scored a total of 154 points, averaging 51 points per matchup. They’ve done most of their scoring feasting during the 2nd and 4th quarters. The Irish offense has been much less prolific from a points on the scoreboard standpoint but here’s to hoping that spark we saw towards the end of the Cal game will turn this around. I don’t see a world in which UNC’s offense is able to put up as many points against ND but it’s likely that their freshman quarterback Drake Maye is going to lead the team to the end zone at least a few times.
Maye and the Passing Game
Maye has been a major part of UNC’s success so far this season. The Tar Heel’s passing game accounts for the bulk, 11, of the team’s offensive touchdowns this season. The freshman QB has averaged around 300 yards per game and thrown for 930 total yards. He’s also managed to complete 73% of his 98 total attempts. This is close to double the same stats for ND’s passers. Last week, UNC hit their lowest their down conversion rate of 46% as well as first downs attained, totaling 23. From a total yardage standpoint, the team has been trending downward also.
Opportunities for Turnovers
Maye has also only lobbed up one interception for the season but the team has been trending upwards with regards to losing fumbles. They’ve got three total, lost fumbles on the season with two coming in last week’s game against Georgia State alone. If you factor this in with the Marshall outing being (hopefully) a passing outlier for the Irish doesn’t set the two teams that far apart in the area of turnovers.
UNC Rushing Unit
While the bulk of the Tar Heel’s offensive success has been facilitated through the air, the ground game has played a solid role. UNC has a total of 712 rushing yards through Week 3, averaging 233 yards per game. The productivity of their rushing game has been trending consistently downward in terms of total yards and average yards per rush while the run game saw its most attempts in Week 3.
Freshman Omarion Hampton has been the star of UNC’s rushing game. He leads the team with 38 carries through Week 3, averaging 6 yards per carry. Fellow freshman, QB Maye, has been the second biggest part of the rushing game. He’s got 26 carries, averaging 5.6 yards per carry. The Hampton-Maye combo accounts for 53% of the team’s rushing yards, or a total of 374 yards on the ground. Given some of the issues the Irish at points with stopping Cal’s rushing attack, this is probably the potential wildcard that gives me the most anxiety.
Tar Heel Weak Link: Defense
On paper, their defense doesn’t look remarkably bad. In general, they’ve been trending in ok or stable directions. However, they’ve come up short where it matters the most, keeping opponents off the scoreboard. The Tar Heel’s porous defense is largely the culprit in why opponents have been able to turn their games into high-scoring shootouts. In particular, they’ve not done a great job at putting pressure on the QB, maxing out at 3 sacks and QB hurries a game. The ND offense is going to be whatever its going to be come Saturday but I’m hoping that we can exploit this and at least give the players some needed confidence to carry though the rest of the season.
There’s a lot that can go right in this game but also a healthy number of things that can make this Saturday an unpleasant experience for the ND fan base. Definitely hoping for the latter and that nowhere near the levels of drama from House of the Dragon creep into the UNC stadium this weekend.
Cheers and Go Irish!