|No. 25 North Carolina takes aim at No. 2 Notre Dame|
A week off might have been good for No. 2 Notre Dame, but the Fighting Irish must return to action ready for more challenges.
"There are still some things out there for us that we need to get better," coach Brian Kelly said. "Get ready for this stretch drive because it's going to be a tough one. A lot work left for this football team."
A matchup with No. 25 North Carolina comes next for Notre Dame on Friday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
"We definitely understand this is a big opportunity for our team and it's a tremendous challenge against a team like Notre Dame," North Carolina quarterback Sam Howell said. "We know the impact a win like this can have on a program. It's definitely a game we want to win and we're going to put in all the work."
With three games remaining, Notre Dame (8-0, 7-0 Atlantic Coast Conference) still has work to do to qualify for the ACC championship game. Clemson and Miami, both with one loss, are in the mix, while North Carolina (6-2, 6-2) can stay in contention by defeating the Irish.
Notre Dame and North Carolina have similar firepower, though that's often produced in varying fashions.
In its most recent game, North Carolina wiped out a 21-point second-half hole to overcome visiting Wake Forest 59-53 on Nov. 14. Later that day, Notre Dame followed its conquering of then-No. 1 Clemson by winning 45-31 at Boston College.
Howell posted a school-record 550 passing yards against Wake Forest.
"If you look at them, certainly the first thing is the big-chunk plays," Kelly said. "... Eliminating the big-chunk plays, making them earn it down the field, I think is job (No.) 1. They have schemes for everything. We have to do a good job of keeping them to minimum gains. They're going to move the ball."
Kelly said the Irish continue to evolve at the cornerback position, which includes true freshman Clarence Lewis on one side. In order to keep the Tar Heels in check, controlling the line of scrimmage will be important.
"We still have to work a rotation to get a pass rush," Kelly said.
Notre Dame limits opponents to an ACC-best 85.1 rushing yards per game. North Carolina running backs Javonte Williams (108.5) and Michael Carter (100.9) both average more than that on the ground individually. Williams has a league-high 18 touchdowns, 15 coming on the ground.
Howell tops the ACC with 338 yards per game of total offense and 23 touchdown passes.
"We definitely have a lot of confidence that we can score as many points as it takes to win," Howell said. "We are going to have a really good plan."
Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book has thrown for 11 touchdowns with one interception. Irish running back Kyren Williams has posted 97.1 rushing yards per game.
North Carolina has given up some large point totals. The Tar Heels could have some new looks this week.
"We're also throwing in some wrinkles in practice to make sure we're on top of everything," linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel said. "Notre Dame likes to attack your weaknesses, and we've seen that on tape throughout the year."
Notre Dame will have adjustments to make on the offensive line.
Four-year starting right guard Tommy Kraemer underwent an appendectomy and will miss the North Carolina game, according to reports out of South Bend, Ind. Notre Dame is already without center Jarrett Patterson because of a broken foot.
This is North Carolina's final ACC home game, though the Tar Heels will attempt to play a nonleague home game next week against Western Carolina.
That game, which was added to the schedule after the Tar Heels' attempts to play nonconference contests in September were derailed, was pushed up from Dec. 11 to Dec. 5 amid numerous rescheduled ACC games.
The Tar Heels play at Miami on Dec. 12.
--Field Level Media