Even against a struggling Notre Dame squad, North Carolina can finally get a convincing answer that it hasn’t gotten in its previous three wins. Yes, the Tar Heels are undefeated, but are they good?
A win against the Irish (1-2) might be the barometer the Heels need to figure it out.
Notre Dame played Ohio State tough in its opener before losing 21-10. But it’s the home opener loss, 26-21, to Marshall, after the Fighting Irish brought in first-year coach Marcus Freeman at the start of the season.
The Irish have major problems on offense, where they have scored just three points in the first quarter of three games and are averaging just 18 points per game.
Despite Notre Dame’s problems, Carolina could take comfort with a win in its final non-conference game before ACC play begins. The Heels blew double-digit leads against App State (41-21) and Georgia State (21-3) before escaping with a pair of road wins.
UNC coach Mack Brown said he hoped the Tar Heels’ off week would allow some starters to return to the team. Receiver Antoine Green, who has been out since mid-August with a shoulder injury, was back catching passes before the Tar Heels beat Georgia State. The seniors may be back in the final against the Irish.
Junior receiver Josh Downs, who led the team in receptions and yards last season, has not played since suffering a knee injury in the opener against Florida A&M. Offensive tackle Spencer Rolland missed their win over the Panthers with a lower-body injury.
If the Heels had all three available to Notre Dame, it would be their first full-strength game offensively this season.
Movable force vs. movable object
Notre Dame’s offense ranks 114th nationally among 131 FBS teams in total offense, averaging just 300.3 yards per game. Carolina’s defense ranks 123rd in total defense allowing an average of 468 yards per game.
Something has to give. Will this be the game and team where the Tar Heels defense will put together a complete game and shut down their opponents? Or is it the game where Ireland’s offense comes to life? The answer will likely determine who wins.
Three Notre Dame players to watch
Drew Pyne, QB: Starting quarterback Tyler Buchner was injured and lost for the season against Marshall, prompting Pyne to take over at center. Saturday’s game against Carolina will be just his second career start for the third-year sophomore.
Isaiah Foskey, VYP: The 6-foot, 265-pound junior plays the hybrid “Vyper” spot in the Irish lineup where he’s basically a standup defensive end, but can drop back as a lineuper. He leads the Irish with 2.5 sacks and three tackles for loss.
Howard Cross III, MD: A defensive lineman rarely leads the team in tackles, but the 6-foot, 276-pound junior does just that for the Irish. He is arguably the best player UNC’s offensive line has seen so far this season.
Three UNC players to watch
Drake Maye, QB: Now that each team has played three games, Maye’s numbers are still high. He is tied for the national lead with Ohio State’s CJ Stroud and Tulsa’s Davis Brin with 11 touchdown passes. He ranks eighth nationally in pass efficiency and 11th with 310 yards per game.
Kaimon Rucker, DE: According to Pro Football Focus, Rucker has graded out as the fourth-best edge defender nationally through three games. Rucker had an assist on the game-saving two-point conversion stop against App State.
Kobe Paysour, WR: The redshirt freshman emerged as Maye’s most reliable target. Paysour has started the last two games in Josh Down’s absence and currently leads the team with 14 catches for 172 yards.
UNC vs. Notre Dame game and TV information
EDS: UNC (3-0) vs. Notre Dame (1-2)
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
When: 3:30pm, Saturday
Vegas betting options
The Tar Heels are a 1.5-point favorite, according to the Vegas Insider consensus line.