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Notre Dame-North Carolina Preview: Back to Tobacco Road

October 4, 2017

By John Heisler

The University of Notre Dame’s football scheduling partnership with the Atlantic Coast Conference means the Irish spend a good share of time in the state of North Carolina.

This marks the second straight year with a trip to the state for the Irish and the second in a string of five consecutive seasons with a game played there. Notre Dame plays two football games in North Carolina in both 2023 and 2027.

Here’s the full slate through the 2020s:

2016-at North Carolina State (lost 10-3)
2017-at North Carolina
2018-at Wake Forest
2019-at Duke
2020-vs. Wake Forest (in Charlotte)
2022-at North Carolina
2023-at North Carolina State and at Duke
2026-at North Carolina
2027-at Wake Forest and at Duke
2029-at North Carolina State

Although there are four ACC programs that have faced Notre Dame more often (70 games against Pittsburgh, 35 against Georgia Tech, 26 against Miami, 24 against Boston College), North Carolina Saturday becomes the fifth ACC team and the 16th opponent overall to play the Irish 20 or more times (also Air Force, Army, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Michigan State, Navy, Northwestern, Purdue, Stanford and USC).

North Carolina fans will reference their two series wins, both in Chapel Hill-in 1960 when the Tar Heels defeated a two-win Irish squad 12-7 in the rain and again in 2008 (Notre Dame’s most recent stop at Kenan Stadium) when the 22nd-rated Tar Heels prevailed 29-24 despite Jimmy Clausen’s 383 passing yards.

Notre Dame fans will remember these moments:
–Jeff Samardzija’s 177 receiving yards in 2006 on only six catches (a 29.5-yard average that ranks as the second highest in Notre Dame single-game history)
–An 80-yard Joe Montana-to-Ted Burgmeier connection in 1975 when the Irish came from behind to win (on that play with 1:03 to go, with Montana entering the game with his team trailing 14-6)
–An 84-yard Mike Swistowicz interception return for a score in 1949 (at Yankee Stadium in the first meeting of the series, a 42-6 victory by the top-rated Irish)
–Another interception return for a TD in 1955, this one for 75 yards by Lou Loncaric in fifth-rated Notre Dame’s 22-7 win in Chapel Hill.

Notre Dame’s most recent meeting with the Tar Heels came in South Bend in 2014 and featured 300 passing yards by Everett Golson in the 50-43 Irish win that marked the highest scoring day in the series for both programs (and the most combined points in any game at Notre Dame Stadium).

The Tar Heels permitted 403 rushing yards against Georgia Tech’s triple-option offense last weekend and now face an Irish attack that ranks seventh nationally in rushing offense, averaging 301.4 yards. Running back Josh Adams (his 658 rushing yards are the fourth most in the country) and quarterback Brandon Wimbush (402 rushing yards and eight TDs) combine to average 212 ground yards per game between them.

“They’ve been very effective running the ball,” Carolina head coach Larry Fedora said this week. “They’ve got to be doing a great job up front, the running backs have been very, very productive and that quarterback can run–he’s a big guy who can run. They’re going to run the football and play-action pass you.”

Meanwhile, Irish coach Brian Kelly liked how his team handled its assignment against Miami:

“I told our team (Monday) it was a satisfying win because it was one where our team went in and played against a faceless opponent in the sense that they knew going in that physically they had an opponent that didn’t have the same tools. Yet they did not let that affect the way they prepared all week and how they played the game.

“It showed a great deal of maturity, a great deal of accountability, accountability to a standard and it’s the way we want to play each and every week.

“A standard has been set, and our preparation now is absolutely crucial. Week in and week out, we know how to do it, and now it’s applying that attention to the smallest details. We can’t let go of the rope now. They know what they need to do on a day-to-day basis, and so it’s my job really to make sure that those smallest of details are looked at on a day-to-day basis, so we prepare our football team to play up to that standard.”

Kelly is convinced that the North Carolina team his Irish faces is more talented and capable than its record indicates:

“This weekend with North Carolina, there are some similarities in the sense that if you look at their record, you may get the similar sense that it’s a 1-4 football team, and it is. But in four of the five games they’ve had a lead going into the fourth quarter. If you watch their film last week against Georgia Tech, that’s a battle going late into the game. It’s 7-0, and they are playing hard and physical. So we’re going to have a great challenge on our hands.

“Looking at who they are on film, looking at the athleticism that they have, we’ll have to play up to the standards we have set, and that’s the most important thing. Not looking at anything else but the film and how they’ve played their opponents over the past five weeks, there’s some really good athletes on their football team.”


–After the North Carolina game, the Irish have a week off before playing three consecutive home games and four home games over a five-week stretch. Notre Dame’s final six opponents currently stand a combined 22-5, with both Navy (4-0) and Miami (3-0) unbeaten.

–The Irish this week are shooting for a third road win over a Power 5 conference opponent in 2017. The only program in the country to achieve that so far is Washington (road wins at Rutgers, Colorado and Oregon State).

–Notre Dame is perfect in red-zone efficiency so far in 2017 at 22 for 22-after finishing 72nd nationally in that category just a year ago.

–The Irish now have won three consecutive games by 20 or more points for the first time in 12 years when they won four in a row in that category (BYU, Tennessee, Navy, Syracuse-all four games played at Notre Dame Stadium).

–Notre Dame in 2017 won four games in the month of September for only the fifth time in its football history (also 1993 on the way to 11-1, 2006 on the way to 10-3, 2012 on the way to 12-1 and 2015 on the way to 10-3).