It’s easy to complain about a Notre Dame offense that ranks 115th out of 131 teams in scoring average. Certainly, the lethargic nature of this unit has been the source of struggles in the Irish’s 1-2 start. But, the Irish get a gift in Week 4. After the Notre Dame offense, led by quarterback Drew Pyne, showed signs of life in the second half last week, they face an atrocious North Carolina defense.
It’s pivotal that the Irish show up and score points, as the Tar Heels will be difficult to stop. Notre Dame’s defense is only allowing 184 passing yards per game, and they looked much improved on the defensive line last week. But that came against a pretty poor Cal offense. UNC is averaging over 51 points per game, and Notre Dame must bring their A-game defensively. Even if they do that, holding UNC to 24 or fewer points is a tall task. Twenty-four is the chosen number because that’s the most points the Notre Dame offense has produced this year. Here are three keys for the Irish to move the ball better and produce a season-best performance against North Carolina.
Notre Dame Offense Keys To Victory
Beat The Secondary At The Line of Scrimmage
In their season opener, the UNC defense gave up six touchdowns to Appalachian State. How? Frequently, the Tar Heel secondary was out of position and exposed in the passing game. UNC deploys a heavy dosage of press coverage, which prioritizes winning at the line of scrimmage. For a defense built on this concept, the Tar Heels have struggled. The Irish have an offense that can be built for this type of attack. Against Cal, the Irish looked for quick slants and short passes to the flats. Executing these quick passes means Irish receivers must get open fast. Sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Styles has demonstrated an ability to do this, as has junior All-American tight end Michael Mayer. The Irish have speed and power in their receiving corps which can help them get open quickly and allow Pyne to operate off his first or second read.
Yards After The Catch
With an average depth of target of just 2.8 yards, the Notre Dame offense clearly prioritized this in Week 3. Against UNC’s press coverage, the opportunity for explosive plays without shooting the ball downfield becomes even more prevalent. The Irish certainly should stretch the field and take some shots, adding some verticality to their offense. However, with only a handful of scholarship wide receivers available on the depth chart, doing this frequently could easily tire out the offense. Against UNC, completing high-percentage looks will be key to moving the chains and keeping quarterback Drake Maye and company off the field.
Thus, without asking for Notre Dame to suddenly complete a bevy of deep shots, a reasonable expectation is looking for yards after the catch. Notre Dame has a ton of athletes at their skill positions. Styles took a short pass 54 yards after breaking a tackle against Ohio State. Braden Lenzy continuously flashes his elite athleticism on the edge or via jet sweeps. Mayer is a powerful runner who is difficult to bring down. The Irish backfield features a trio of receiving threats. If the Irish prioritize giving Pyne high-percentage looks with producing explosive plays, this Notre Dame offense can unlock a new ceiling, particularly against a poor UNC defense.
This seems incredibly vague, but it’s so key for the Notre Dame offense. They’ve shown flashes, but the Irish are yet to really put together a strong run and pass-blocking effort. Irish fans saw those flashes against Cal. The offensive line stepped up in the second half, opening up running lanes and getting to the second level with consistency. That opened things up for Chris Tyree and Audric Estime to gain steam and break off some strong runs.
But it’s not just the offensive line. The tight end blocking is a crucial aspect of the Irish offense, and it opens up their playbook tremendously. With those aforementioned athletes at the skill positions, jet sweeps and reverses, or even just runs outside the tackles can be tremendous weapons. However, that calls on Mayer and Kevin Bauman to execute their blocking assignments and give Irish runners space to operate. The same goes for wide receivers when called upon to block.
Additionally, the Notre Dame running backs must improve in pass protection. This was a particular strength of Kyren Williams, a 2022 fifth-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Rams. The Irish struggled in the first few games, but they saw improvement in Week 3. Most critically, Estime picked up a linebacker blitz on Pyne’s game-winning touchdown pass to Mayer. Estime’s block, while not super clean, gave Pyne enough time to fire a pass to his first read.
It’s easy to blame the offensive line for everything, but for the Notre Dame offense to have success, they need a cohesive team effort in both run and pass-blocking to create more opportunities this weekend.