Nov. 2, 2006
By Tim Connor
When Notre Dame and North Carolina meet this afternoon at Notre Dame Stadium, it will mark the first time that these two squads have met in 31 years. The last time the two teams got together at Notre Dame Stadium was on Oct. 16, 1971, a 16-0 Irish win. This season’s meeting is a tale of two teams heading in opposite directions as the Irish enter the game with a 7-1 record and have won five straight. North Carolina makes its 11th trip to South Bend in the series history with a 1-7 record and the Tar Heels have dropped five in a row. The two teams have met a total of 16 times in the all-time series with Notre Dame holding a 15-1 edge. The first game of the series was played in 1949 at Yankee Stadium with the top-ranked Irish taking a 42-6 decision. Notre Dame would win the first 10 meetings in the series, before dropping a 12-7 game in 1960 at Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C. Since then, the Irish have won the last five contests between the two schools. The last time the two teams met was in 1975 at North Carolina with the Irish, led by Joe Montana, pulling out a 21-14 win over the Tar Heels. Montana hit Tom Burgmeier with an 80-yard touchdown catch and run with 1:03 left in the game. Notre Dame comes into this afternoon’s game fresh off a 38-14 win over Navy a week ago in Baltimore, Md. The win extended Notre Dame’s winning streak against the Midshipmen to 43 games, the longest winning streak against one opponent in NCAA history. The Irish are ranked 11th by the Associated Press and 10th in the USA Today poll. In the Bowl Championship Series rankings, the Irish are ranked ninth coming into this weekend’s play. The Tar Heels saw their record fall to 1-7 on the season last weekend with a tough, 24-17 loss to 24th-ranked Wake Forest. North Carolina led 17-14 after three quarters of play only to see the Demon Deacons rally for 10 fourth-quarter points and the win. The Tar Heels made a last-minute drive for a touchdown only to get stopped by an interception with 41 seconds left.
Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis has the Irish put together a five-game winning streak as the Irish head into the home stretch of the 2006 campaign. The 7-1 Irish were firing on all cylinders in last week’s tilt against Navy, scoring on the first five drives of the game on the way to a 38-14 win over the Midshipmen. Notre Dame rolled up 471 yards in total offense with 176 coming on the ground and 295 through the air in the win. For the season, the Irish are averaging 30 points-per-game via an average of 387.2 yards per game with 280 of that coming through the air and 107.2 on the ground. The Irish head coach is now 16-4 (.800) in his second season at the helm. Today’s game is his first meeting against North Carolina.
John Bunting is in his sixth season guiding the North Carolina Tar Heels. A 1972 graduate of North Carolina, Bunting was a first-team All-ACC selection and an honorable mention All-American in his final season (1971) when he helped lead North Carolina to the ACC title. As a player, he faced Notre Dame in the last meeting between the two schools at Notre Dame Stadium and was credited with 20 tackles in the 16-0 Irish win on Oct. 16, 1971. A 10th round draft choice of the Philadelphia Eagles, he went on to play 11 seasons in the NFL and two seasons in the USFL with the Philadephia/Baltimore Stars. Bunting owns a 25-43 (.368) record as the Tar Heels’ coach.
A Look At The Irish
With Notre Dame offense continues to put up strong numbers as the 2006 season heads into its final third segment this afternoon against North Carolina. Except for getting stopped on the ground two weeks ago against UCLA, the Irish have had four strong performances in a row, dating back to the Stanford win. The one-two punch of quarterback Brady Quinn and running back Darius Walker was back at it last week versus Navy as the dynamic duo combined for 131 yards on the ground and 295 through the air. Quinn passed for the 295 yards and tossed three touchdown passes on an 18-for-25 afternoon against the Middies. Walker gained 103 yards on 20 carries and caught three passes for 32 yards for his day. For the year, Quinn now has completed 193-of-303 passes for 2,233 yards and 21 touchdown passes. The Irish field boss continues to make his mark on the Notre Dame and NCAA record books with his passing wizardry. He is just one of 32 players in NCAA history to pass for over 10,000 yards in his career. Walker continues to give the Notre Dame offense a variety of threats on the ground and through the air. He has run for 682 yards on 160 carries for three touchdowns and has caught a school record (for running backs) 45 passes for 312 yards and another touchdown. Irish fans may have gotten a peek at the future against Navy as freshman James Aldridge saw extended playing time, gaining 29 yards on 12 carries, both career highs. Just when you thought that Charlie Weis’ offense had enough pass-catching weapons in Walker out of the backfield, wide receivers Rhema McKnight and Jeff Samardzija and tight end John Carlson, it looks like a new name can be added to the list. Sophomore wide receiver David Grimes has joined the cast. Grimes had three catches versus Navy for 72 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown catch in the first quarter. He now has 16 catches on the year for 206 yards. McKnight and Samardzija continue to go back-and-forth for the team in receptions with Walker. McKnight moved to the top of the list this week with six catches for 94 yards and two touchdowns against Navy and now has a team high 46 grabs for 617 yards and nine touchdowns. Walker is second on the list with 45 receptions and Samardzija is now third with 43 catches for 509 yards and seven touchdowns. Carlson continues to be one of the top tight ends in the nation as he was on the receiving end of five Quinn passes against Navy for 75 yards. His 37 catches are fourth on the team while his 14.3-yard average is the teams best.
The defensive tackle duo of Trevor Laws (98) and Derek Landri (66) has made life miserable for opposing running backs and quarterbacks in recent weeks. Against Navy, the twosome combined for six solo tackles and nine assists, including two tackles for losses of nine yards. Laws had one of the team’s four sacks. (Laws photo by Matt Cashore).
Defensively, the Irish bent but never broke against the Midshipmen, surrendering 271 yards on the ground but just 14 points on the scoreboard. Senior safety Tom Zbikowski had a career-high 14 tackles (10 solo, four assists) in the Navy game while linebacker Maurice Crum, Jr., was second with 11 tackles (four solo, seven assists). Crum leads the team through eight games with 62 stops while Zbikowski and fellow safety Chinedum Ndukwe are tied for second with 52 tackles. The defensive tackle duo of Derek Landri and Trevor Laws saw lots of action against Navy’s running game with Landri being in on 11 tackles (four solo, seven assists). Laws was in on four stops, including two for losses with one sack. Defensive end Victor Abiamiri had a nice homecoming to the Baltimore area with six tackles, including two sacks. Abiamiri now has eight sacks on the season to go with a team-high 11 quarterback hurries. The Notre Dame defense has forced 12 turnovers in 2006 with six interceptions and six fumble recoveries. They have combined for 20 sacks for 149 yards in losses this year.
The Tar Heels
North Carolina comes into today’s game having scored just 122 points (15.2 per game) while giving up 261 (32.6 per game) in its 1-7 start. Last weekend, the Tar Heels fell to ACC foe, Wake Forest, 24-17 when a last-minute drive ended with an interception with 43 seconds remaining. In eight games this year, North Carolina has rushed for 118.9 yards per game while throwing for 174.6 per game to average 293.5 for the season. Defensively, the Tar Heels are surrendering 376.4 yards a contest with 205.1 coming on the ground and 171.2 through the air. Freshman red-shirt quarterback Cam Sexton has started the last five games for North Carolina while junior Joe Dailey has seen his share of action. Sexton has completed 57-of-135 passes on the year for 840 yards and four touchdowns. He has eight passes picked off. Dailey has thrown 93 times, completing 57 for 557 yards. He has two touchdown passes and has seen seven of his attempts intercepted. Both played against Wake Forest last weekend with Dailey completing 13-of-19 for 156 yards and a touchdown. Sexton was six-for-10 for 80 yards in the game. Dailey threw a pair of interceptions. The Tar Heel running game is in the capable hands of senior tailback Ronnie McGill who has rushed for 523 yards on 127 carries for a 4.1-yard average and six touchdowns on the season. He was just the second running back to go over 100 yards versus Wake Forest this season when he rambled for 117 yards on 29 carries and a touchdown. For his career, McGill has run for 2,126 yards on 464 carries and 23 career TDs. Junior tailback Barrington Edwards is second in rushing with 238 yards on 65 carries for a 3.7-yard average and one touchdown this season. The two quarterbacks have combined for 56 carries and two touchdowns this season. Through the air, North Carolina looks to a trio of receivers as senior Jesse Holley, sophomore Brooks Foster and freshman Hakeem Nicks have combined for 74 of the teams 114 receptions. Foster has 28 catches for 326 yards (11.6) and one touchdown. Holley owns 24 grabs for 358 yards and a 14.9 average while Nicks has 22 catches for 336 yards (15.1 average) and a touchdown. Defensively, the Tar Heels were hurt with the loss of senior linebacker Larry Edwards who was lost for the year with a broken collarbone in the South Florida loss. A Butkus Award candidate, he was leading North Carolina in tackles and tackles for loss at the time of the injury. Senior strong safety Kareen Taylor leads the team in tackles with 48 (35 solos, 13 assists). Junior linebacker Durrell Mapp is tied for second with 46 stops (28, 18) with sophomore safety Cooter Arnold (33, 13). The Tar Heel defense has recorded 12 sacks for 86 yards in losses but has forced just seven turnovers (one interception and six fumbles) through the first eight games.