Notre Dame was able to tally their fourth win in a row over USC this past Saturday and the eighth out of 11 under Brian Kelly thanks to one of the most complete performances seen this year. Almost all facets of this Irish program have taken a step forward (better late than never) and seem to be building up some confidence and momentum heading into the back half of the season.
In last Saturday’s contest against the Trojans, Jack Coan completed 20 of his 28 passing attempts for 189 yards, one touchdown and one interception. I don’t know about you, but I would entertain arguments on either side as to whether or not that throw to Kevin Austin was actually an interception. Irish fans got to get another glimpse at Tyler Buchner who completed both of his passing attempts and tallied a rushing touchdown as well. In my opinion, this was a great use of Buchner’s skillet – bringing him in during redzone situations where his legs proved to be affective while still giving him the chances to throw the ball. Offensively, Kyren Williams continues to show his dominance – it seems that he has one to two runs per game where he just refuses to go down and I love it. It is also great to see the involvement of freshman wide receivers Lorenzo Styles and Deion Colzie, both of which are explosive playmakers.
My two biggest disappointments in Notre Dame’s matchup against USC were the injury to Kyle Hamilton and the lack of will to score again at the end of the game. First off, Kyle Hamilton’s injury, according to Brian Kelly, is to his fat pad which will cause him to miss the upcoming matchup against North Carolina. With the way that Hamilton has played, he undoubtedly has a bright future and a lot of money to earn in the NFL and there are rumors swirling that we may have seen Hamilton play his last snap in an Irish uniform. Now please take that for what it is – a complete rumor, no factual validation here. For selfish reason, I hope that Hamilton comes back simply because he is awesome to get to watch play, but I cannot fault him either way on the decision that he makes. Secondly was the kneel-down at the end of the game. Why? USC is Notre Dame’s rival; in rivalry games the records get thrown out the window. I don’t understand the mentality of not wanting to put up more points against them. Not to hurt their feelings? Have people already forgotten about the Pete Carroll era where the Trojans went 8-1 against the Irish in the early 2000s? Come on now, put the ball in the endzone.
Enough revisiting the past, it’s time to look ahead as the 4-3 Tarheels of North Carolina are coming to Notre Dame stadium for another primetime showdown. This team may confuse me more than Notre Dame has. North Carolina came in with a preseason rank of 10 and a lot of Heisman buzz surrounding their quarterback, Sam Howell. Howell’s season stats are nothing to overlook, but with an offensive line that has struggled (maybe even more than Notre Dame’s), his time in the pocket has been limited. The Tarheels rank 127th in sacks allowed, giving up nearly four per game. With that being said, I expect another big week from Notre Dame’s Isaiah Foskey, who has the potential of breaking Justin Tuck’s single season sack record for the Irish with the pace that he is on.
Howell will likely force the Irish defense into playing a good deal of zone coverage simply because of his dual-threat ability. He is a great runner and passer, and Kyle Hamilton’s absence will definitely be felt. Howell’s best target, a sophomore slot receiver, Josh Downs, will garner a good amount of attention over the middle of the field. Downs already has eight touchdown receptions this year and is averaging nearly 14 yards per catch. For the Irish to have success, they will need to lock in on Downs while not allowing Howell to pick up extra yardage on the ground.
For the Irish, it looks like Coan has firmly established himself in the starting role at quarterback and the offensive line has continued to show improvements over the last two to three outings. Coan’s success comes from the short, quick pass plays that get the ball into the hands of Notre Dame’s playmakers, putting them in space and letting them go to work. Not only do I hope to see that trend continue, but as mentioned earlier, I like using Buchner in redzone situations to add another dimension to the Irish offense. The Tarheels are giving up just under 29 points per game. They are a team that when they are on, they are ON, and when they are off, it is a downhill spiral FAST. As Notre Dame fans, the latter of the two teams described would be nice to see on Saturday as the Irish have found a way to make almost every game this season a nail-biter.
The Irish are currently 3.5-point favorites and even with the absence of Kyle Hamilton, I am still going to take the Irish to win 34-28. The Tarheels lackluster offensive line will open up some great opportunities for the Irish to get into the backfield and with the way Notre Dame’s running game has been improving, I think Williams will be able to put up another solid performance on the ground. Night games at Notre Dame stadium, – nothing better. Go Irish. Beat Tarheels.
A Look at Notre Dame’s Opponents:
Florida State: 3-4 overall, beat UMass 59-3
Toledo: 4-4 overall, beat Western Michigan 34-15
Purdue: 4-3 overall, lost to Wisconsin 30-13
Wisconsin: 4-3 overall, beat Purdue 30-13
Cincinnati: 7-0 overall, beat Navy 27-20, currently ranked #2
Virginia Tech: 3-4 overall, lost to Syracuse 41-36
USC: 3-4 overall, lost to Notre Dame 31-16
North Carolina: 4-3 overall, coming off bye week
Navy: 1-6 overall, lost to Cincinnati 27-20
Virginia: 6-2 overall, beat Georgia Tech 48-40
Georgia Tech: 3-4 overall, lost to Virginia 48-40
Stanford: 3-4 overall, coming off bye week