Notre Dame-North Carolina: Behind Enemy Lines with Tar Heels Wire

Notre Dame faces an unbeaten opponent Saturday in their second road game of the year when they travel to North Carolina.  The 3-0 Tar Heels have wins over Florida A&M and Georgia State that hardly move the meter but their road victory over Appalachian State has looked more impressive over the past couple weeks.

Is this a game where Notre Dame gets to .500 on the year and starts to build a little more positive momentum heading into their bye week or is it one where the Tar Heels, fresh off a bye, make it a truly forgettable September for their guests?

Although this will be the third-straight season Notre Dame and North Carolina have met, we don’t know a ton about this particular Tar Heels squad.  For more on them we bothered Zack Pearson, the managing editor of Tar Heels Wire to fill the gaps on a few things related to North Carolina football.

Follow Zack on Twitter @Zack_Pearson

1 of 11: Is the Carolina offense a case of beating up poor opponents defenses or is it the real deal?

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I think a little bit of both. Notre Dame’s defense will be the best one UNC has faced all season lon so it’s going to be a tough test. But this offense has been really good overall behind the play of Drake Maye and the run game with Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway. They are doing this without their two best receivers in Josh Downs and Antoine Green as well but both are expected back. Phil Longo’s air raid offense is finally starting to show up and UNC fans have waited a while for that.

2 of 11: What is the relative weakness of this offense?

Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line at tackle. When they’ve struggled it’s because Drake Maye hasn’t had time to throw and can’t escape the pressure. They are fine on the interior but the tackles have been getting beat too many times this year. Luckily for UNC, more often than not Maye has been able to feel and escape the pressure and make plays running the ball.

3 of 11: Conversely, the defensive numbers are an eye-sore. Is the defense that bad, are the numbers because of the high power offense? Are there signs of life for this defense to take a few steps?

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The defense has been that bad, specifically the secondary and run defense. It’s surprising for the secondary to be this bad, especially with former five-star Tony Grimes back there and a player in Storm Duck who when healthy has been good. But they are blowing coverages, not locking up in man-to-man, and have given up some big pass plays. They’ve also struggled with the play-action after the run game has picked up big chunks. It feels like it snowballs for them for two quarters and then somehow they put it together for the rest of the game.

4 of 11: What are the relative or genuine strengths of the defense?

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When UNC has had success on the defensive side, it’s been the front seven. They have generated pressure with Myles Murphy, Desmond Evans, Kaimon Rucker and transfer Noah Taylor. They only have 6 sacks on the year total but they’ve been generating some pressure on quarterbacks. If they can win up front, it could be a long day for Notre Dame.

5 of 11: It feels like Sam Howell was at North Carolina for a decade. What needs to be known about quarterback Drake Maye?

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He’s a legacy Tar Heel. His father, Mark, was one of the best QB’s in program history and his brother, Luke, won a national title with the basketball team after hitting that iconic shot to beat Kentucky in the Elite 8. His other brother won a College World Series title with Florida. As a quarterback, he’s really damn good. While the country might just be finding this out, UNC fans knew all along. The once Alabama commit has always been a big target of UNC so it wasn’t a surprise when he flipped. Many thought it would be a downgrade from Sam Howell but Maye could be even better.

6 of 11: Any idea on the status of wide receiver Josh Downs and any other injured Tar Heels?

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I’d be shocked if Josh Downs didn’t play this week. All signs point to him being on track to returning for the game and that’s huge for UNC. But he’s not the only WR that’s likely to return. Antoine Green appears to be returning from a shoulder injury and should play in his first game this year. He’s a kid who some say has legit NFL talent.

7 of 11: Who are a couple players Notre Dame fans should familiarize themselves with ahead of this game?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The obvious ones on offense are Drake Maye and Josh Downs (likely to return this week) but UNC’s run game has been really good. Freshmen Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway have been really good for Mack Brown’s offense. They also have Caleb Hood back there as well.

On defense, Myles Murphy and Cedric Gray have been studs for the Tar Heels despite the struggles. Those are two guys in the front seven who can do damage.

8 of 11: What about ND would seem to concern North Carolina the most?

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Notre Dame’s defense stopping the Tar Heels’ offense. In 2020 when the two teams met, I thought UNC would be able to get through that very good ND defense or at least stay in it. That wasn’t the case in the second half despite the talent UNC had that season. If Notre Dame can slow down this offense, they have a legit shot at winning.

9 of 11: For the life of me I can’t figure out how ND is anywhere near a favorite in this one after watching their first three games. What am I missing with North Carolina, if anything?

Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The defense. UNC hasn’t played a tough schedule through three games and if not for an offense that has averaged 49 points per game, near the top of the country. Despite ND being 1-2 and struggling, they are arguably going to be UNC’s toughest test so far.

10 of 11: At 3-0, what’s the vibe around Chapel Hill?  Genuine excitement?  Waiting for them to beat a more traditional FBS program before buying?  Or is it always just a countdown until basketball there?

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It’s a weird vibe. Basketball is king on campus. The men’s and women’s teams are supposed to be really good this year so everyone is waiting for the Fall and Winter. However, the football vibes are weird despite being 3-0 because of how bad the defense has been. UNC’s offense has carried them and they could easily be 1-2 instead of 3-0. If they beat Notre Dame, I believe the fan base will get a little more excited going into the ACC schedule.

11 of 11: When on the road we always like to take in the traditions and parts of other campuses that make them unique. FIW won’t be in attendance but plenty of Notre Dame fans will be. Where must they go in Chapel Hill and what do they have to make sure to take in before entering the stadium on gameday?

Luke Johnson – USA Today Sports

Chapel Hill is a beautiful town there’s a lot to do on game day and Franklin St. is at the center of it all. There’s a ton of spots to check out food wise but some of our favorites are Top of the Hill, Sup Dogs, and Suttons. If fans get the chance, check out the Dean Dome and the UNC basketball museum. The Old Well and Bell Tower are sights to see on campus as well.

BONUS! OK we lied. One more for fun. There are hundreds of potential right answers but to you what is the single worst thing about Duke?

(AP Photo/Ben McKeown)

Coach K. That’s why it was so much sweeter to beat him not only once but twice in his final year as head coach.

Story originally appeared on Fighting Irish Wire