Notre Dame Fighting Irish (4-1 SU, 4-1 ATS) vs. North Carolina Tar Heels (1-4 SU, 1-4 ATS)
College Football Week 6
Date/Time: Saturday, October 7th, 3:30 PM
Where: Kenan Memorial Stadium
By Mike M., NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: ND -12.5 / UNC +12.5
Over/Under Total: 59
Notre Dame travels to North Carolina to take on the Tar Heels in a Saturday afternoon showdown between two teams that are palindrome opposites when it comes to their straight up and against the spread records so far this year, with the Fighting Irish 4-1 in both and the Tar Heels 1-4. This will be their twentieth all time meeting with ND holding a 17-2 advantage, though this weekend will be just the fourth time they have played in the past 42 years.
Going into this season North Carolina knew they would be dealing with uncertainty due to the amount of players lost to graduation, especially on offense where five players were picked in the NFL draft including quarterback Mitch Trubinsky and as a whole lost 98% of their passing, 99% of their rushing and 70% of their receiving output from 2016. Unfortunately nothing could have prepared to them for the rash of injuries that have infiltrated their team and essentially turned their locker room into a sick ward, as they have thus far lost 13 players for the season due to ailments and just last week had seven additional players questionable and were missing a total of eight starters in their game against Georgia Tech.
Even with the losses suffered to the draft the UNC offense still started off the year strong and scored 118 points through their first three games. Unfortunately their best offensive player, wide receiver Austin Proehl, suffered a broken collarbone in this first quarter against Duke and they have been unable to recover since. Quarterback Chazz Surratt has been efficient since securing the starting job, completing 63% of his passes while throwing for five touchdowns and rushing for an additional four more, but with Proehl now lost for the year it remains to be seen who can possibly step up in his place, as no other receiver has more than four catches in a game this season. They at least seem to found their answer for the backfield, with Jordan Brown and Michael Carter forming a two pronged attack with Brown also the teams leading receiver on the season with 20 catches thus far.
While the offense has run into multiple personnel issues due to those departed, their defense does not have much to fall back on in the way of excuses and have been completely ineffective to through the first five games of the season, currently finding themselves nationally ranked at 113th in yards allowed per game, 90th against the pass, 113th versus the rush and 105th in scoring. They have allowed at least 23 points in every game played so far and now have to look forward to hosting a Notre Dame offense that just put up 45 points in the first half last week and are running the ball as well as almost any other team in the country through the first month of the season.
Notre Dame enters the weekend with the 7th rated rushing offense in the country, which has helped them also to a mark of 19th in total offense and 14th in scoring. As a team they are averaging 7.1 yards per carry and have scored 20 rushing touchdowns on the season so far, thanks in large part of the combination of running back Josh Adams and quarterback Brandon Wimbush. Adams currently ranks 6th in the nation in rushing yards with 658 and 4th in yards per carry with an average of 9.0, and was on is way to breaking the school rushing record last week after starting the game with 159 yards and two touchdowns on just eight carries before going down with an ankle injury in the second quarter, though he along with his underrated and fellow injured backup Dexter Williams are both expected to suit up this weekend. Notre Dame is now 8-2 when Adams rushes for over 100 yards in a game, and with their dominant running game combined with an offensive line that has been increasingly imposing their will on opposing defenses, the Irish offense should continue to do its best to stay as run happy as possible, especially with quarterback Brandon Wimbush continuing to run into accuracy issues in the passing game.
Wimbush has been running all over teams through the past couple of weeks and on the season has now rushed for 402 yards and eight touchdowns, with the additional important stat being that last weeks win against Miami Ohio was his second straight game without turning the ball over once. Unfortunately though he struggled again with accuracy, completing just 7 of 18 passes for a rate of just 38.9%, and on the season has completed over half of his passes in a game just once. Despite his lack of accuracy, Wimbush has still thrown for an impressive 6-2 TD/INT ratio and due to his exceptional ability to make plays with his feet, will continue to be a test for opposing defenses to deal with, especially if he can somehow improve on his passing percentage.
Unfortunately for Notre Dame fans, surprising news was released on Tuesday that Wimbush was on the injury report and listed as questionable for their game against UNC. There was no indication of an injury against the Redhawks this past Saturday, but apparently his foot swelled up overnight and he has since been moving around with the aid of a walking boot. If their starter is unable to go on Saturday, the Irish would turn to sophomore Ian Book, who has played in four of their five games so far this season in mop up duty. Book has a similar dual-threat make-up, and while it is never ideal to start a first year player at quarterback on the road against a Power 5 conference team, he will at least benefit from his prior gameplay experience while also having the benefit of facing the struggling Tar Heels defense.
Whether its a hobbled Wimbush or the backup Book, they will certainly need help from theirwide receiver/tight end targets, with one in particular not having the prolific start to the season that many were expecting in Equanimeous St. Brown. After starting off well against Temple in the opener with 80 yards and a touchdown, he has slowed down considerably since, catching just 10 passes over his past four games and not having scored again until the 2nd quarter last week. The talent is unquestionably there for the junior wide out, and his progression this season will likely have a strong influence on the success of whoever is starting at quarterback for the Irish.
With the offense scoring touchdowns at will the play of the Notre Dame defense may not be getting as much as attention, but make no mistake they have been just as important to the teams success. Led by Jerry Tillery, Nyles Morgan and Drue Tranquill, the Irish defense has not allowed over 20 points in a game on the season and has continued to make the tackles and plays that evaded them under former coordinator Brian VanGorder, with current DC Mike Elko already a huge fan favorite for the instant turnaround he has managed to orchestrate.
The point spread for this game opened at 17 but has since dropped to 12.5 with the news on Tuesday of Wimbushs foot injury and questionable availability for Saturdays matchup. From the outside looking in seems like an absurd amount of points for Notre Dame to be giving, on the road no less, against head coach Larry Fedora and his Tar Heels. When you look deeper into the matchup though, the reasons for such a high spread start making a lot more sense. On the Irish side of the field you have a team playing highly sound football on both sides of the ball, converting turnovers into points (10 of 11 for touchdowns), ranking 22nd in defensive scoring, 6th in offensive efficiency and 1st in redzone scoring having converted all 22 trips inside the opponents 20 yard line into points including twenty for touchdowns. And then for the Tar Heels you have an injury riddled team that cant seem to get out of its own way on third downs (94th in offensive efficiency, 124th on defensive) and has struggled mightily of late against quality competition, having lost seven straight games to Power 5 conference while going 0-4 vs ranked teams at home under coach Fedora and not having won at home against a ranked opponent since 2009. With four losses already and games remaining against not only Notre Dame but also Virginia Tech, Miami and NC State, the Tar Heels season may already be over as we enter October which raises a question of how coach Fedora can motivate his team with the chances of qualifying for a bowl berth quickly having dwindled away with each unfortunate defeat. Thirteen is a lot of points to lay on the road against a usually strong Power 5 opponent, but its hard to go against Notre Dame this week even with the questions surrounding Wimbush the way they are clicking on both offense and defense and I think by the games end Saturday they will be able to wear down a depleted UNC squad and get the win and cover in Chapel Hill.
Mike M’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Notre Dame -12.5. Where are you betting this game? Bet it for FREE by taking advantage of a 50% welcome bonus offered to new players at Bovada Sportsbook