Notre Dame-UNC Takeaways

The Notre Dame-UNC battle was a tight affair for most of the first half. But the Irish ripped off a 24-0 run spanning the second and third quarters that turned the game into a laugher. Entering as 1.5-point underdogs, Notre Dame walloped their hosts 45-32 in a game not nearly as close as the final score. Just as it’s easy to overreact to a bad loss, it’s easy to overreact to a big win. In particular, the Irish offense nearly doubled their total output from the first three games. How much of that was the Irish offense figuring it out, and how much was a truly abysmal UNC defense? Let’s look at the Notre Dame-UNC takeaways.

Notre Dame-UNC Takeaways

Rees is making adjustments

Look, UNC isn’t good. But offensive coordinator Tommy Rees‘ creativity is starting to shine through, and the execution on the field helps too. The game plan was solid, and the Irish attacked UNC. Despite an opening three-and-out, the Irish quickly bounced back. The creative short plays were there. Like a jet sweep to tight end Michael Mayer. Or a third-down sweep to running back Logan Diggs behind a two-tight end blocking caravan. Rees mixed in two-back looks, as well. On the opening scoring drive for Notre Dame, quarterback Drew Pyne faked the handoff to Chris Tyree, rolled right, and found Diggs alone along the right side for a chunk gain.

At one point, Tyree ripped off a nice run keyed by a big block from Mayer and left guard Jarrett Patterson who pulled over from the left side to offer an additional block. Perhaps the most impressive moment of in-game adjustment from Rees was on the opening drive of the second half. Earlier in the game, the Irish ran a play-action. Pyne with the handoff to Diggs and rolled right, eventually firing the ball out of bounds. Unnoticed by many on that play, Diggs sprinted left and was uncovered along the sideline. So in the second half, Rees dialed up the same play. Except for this time, Pyne stopped rolling right, turned left, and found Diggs alone for an easy 29-yard touchdown. The in-game adjustments may have been easier against an abysmal defense, but they were impressive nonetheless.

Raridon Impresses in First Major Work

The Irish suffered a big blow with second-string tight end Kevin Bauman announced out for the year. However, true freshman Eli Raridon stepped in admirably in his first major action with the Irish. Over 30 snaps, Raridon offered solid work as a blocker in the run game, a facet of Bauman’s game that was still developing. Raridon has much to prove against better opponents, but this was a solid effort, and if he can continue to deliver as a blocker, the playbook will open further for Rees and the offense. Additionally, don’t forget Raridon is 6’7 and 265 pounds. He can become an absolute matchup nightmare if he develops as a route-runner.

Linebackers Bounce Back

The linebackers graded out horribly last week. Without senior captain JD Bertrand available for the first half, and the Irish relying on nickel packages against the Tar Heels’ spread offense, the linebackers needed a big effort. And they responded. After Notre Dame struggled defensively to contain UNC quarterback Drake Maye, the Irish responded. Maye rushed for 33 yards on that first drive but finished with 36 total yards. Much of that was due to the work of Jack Kiser and Marist Liufau, who contained Maye outside the pocket and combined for 15 tackles. Liufau also recorded 0.5 sacks.

Bertrand, however, did struggle a bit and was the victim of a questionable targeting call after playing just 11 snaps. That was an unfortunate addition to an extremely solid day from the linebackers.

Hart Rebounds But Secondary Struggles

The Irish secondary has been a surprising strength this season. Entering the Notre Dame-UNC clash, the Irish were holding opponents to 184 passing yards per game. However, Cam Hart, considered the best cornerback on the team, was struggling. He turned it around on Saturday, but the rest of the secondary was nothing to write home about. After three terrific games, Tariq Bracy needed another solid performance as a huge factor in those nickel packages. Rather, he struggled, getting beat for North Carolina’s first touchdown and posting a season-worst and team-worst PFF grade in pass coverage.

Elsewhere, there were some interesting trends. Freshman Benjamin Morrison started the game and took 51 snaps on defense. Former starter Clarence Lewis played just ten snaps. Neither posted very good performances. The secondary stayed together long enough to let the Irish offense take a commanding lead. But early and late struggles were noticeable in a relatively poor effort.

Irish can dominate in the run game

Concerns about the Notre Dame running game entering the season, and even entering this Notre Dame-UNC game, was who could be a workhorse back. The Irish are quickly proving they have a trio of highly efficient backs who can work at a high rate while on the field. None of them have to be a bell cow, and Notre Dame is finding their offensive identity by using all three. On Saturday, Diggs, Tyree, and Audric Estime combined for 49 touches on 87 offensive snaps. No back played more than 39 snaps, but each handled touches on a large percentage of their snap. Tyree (19 of 39), Diggs (13 of 22), and Estime (17 of 38) touched the ball frequently and impacted the game in a big way. The trio accounted for over 200 yards of all-purpose offense.

Additionally, the offensive line is beginning to gel. For the third-straight game, left tackle Joe Alt was the team’s highest-graded offensive player by PFF. Patterson and Josh Lugg made their presence known in the top 11. With an improving offensive line, and these running backs, the Irish are quickly finding a sustainable offensive identity.