American Football

Notre Dame Offense Keys vs. North Carolina

It’s easy to complain about a Notre Dame offense that ranks 115th out of 131 teams in scoring average. Certainly the lethargic nature of this unit was the source of the Irish’s 1-2 start struggles. But the Irish get a gift in Week 4. After Notre Dame’s offense, led by quarterback Drew Pine, showed signs of life in the second half last week, they face a tough North Carolina defense.

It will be important for the Irish to show up and score as the Tar Heels will be tough to stop. Notre Dame’s defense is allowing just 184 passing yards per game, and they looked much better on the defensive line last week. But that came against a pretty bad Cal offense. UNC is averaging over 51 points per game and Notre Dame needs to bring its A-game on defense. Even if they do, holding UNC to 24 or fewer points is a tall order. Twenty-four is the number chosen because it is the most points the Notre Dame offense has produced this year. Here are three keys for the Irish to move the ball better and get their best performance of the season against North Carolina.

Notre Dame’s offense is the key to victory

Defeat the secondary on the line of battle

In the season opener, UNC’s defense gave up six touchdowns to Appalachian State. how? Often the Tar Heel secondary was out of position and exposed in the passing game. UNC uses a heavy dose of press coverage that prioritizes winning at the line of scrimmage. For a defense built on that concept, the Tar Heels have struggled. The Irish have an offense that can be built for this type of attack. Against Cal, the Irish looked for quick shots and short passes downfield. Running those pass rushes means the Irish receivers have to get open quickly. Sophomore wide receiver Lorenzo Stiles has shown the ability to do that, as has young All-American tight end Michael Meyer. The Irish have speed and strength in their receiving corps, which could help them get open quickly and allow Pine to operate on his first or second read.

Yards after catch

With an average depth of target of just 2.8 yards, Notre Dame’s offense clearly prioritized that in Week 3. Amid UNC’s press coverage, the opportunity for explosive plays without running the ball downfield becomes even more prevalent. The Irish certainly need to stretch the field and make some shots, adding some verticality to their offense. However, with only a handful of scholarship wide receivers available on the depth chart, doing this often can easily tire the offense. Against UNC, completing high-percentage looks will be key to moving the chains and keeping the quarterback at bay Drake May and company off the field.

Thus, without wanting Notre Dame to suddenly end a set of deep shots, a reasonable expectation is to look for yards after the catch. Notre Dame has many athletes of their skill. Stiles had a 54-yard interception return pass against Ohio State. Braden Lenzi constantly flashes his elite athleticism at the rim or through jet moves. Meyer is a powerful runner who is difficult to bring down. The Irish backfield features a trio of receiving threats. If the Irish make it a priority to provide Pine with a high percentage of looks while producing explosive plays, this Notre Dame offense could unlock a new ceiling, especially against a poor UNC defense.

Blocking

This seems incredibly vague, but it’s so key to the Notre Dame offense. They have shown flashes, but the Irish have yet to put down a strong shot and block on the floor. Irish fans saw glimpses of that against Cal. The offensive line stepped up in the second half, opening up driving lanes and getting to the second level with consistency. This opened things up for Chris Tyree and Odric Esteem to pick up steam and break off some strong runs.

But it’s not just the offensive line. Tight end blocking is a key aspect of the Irish offense and opens up their game tremendously. With these aforementioned athletes at the skill positions, jet slams and flips or even just running off tackles can be great weapons. However, this requires Mayer and Kevin Baumann to fulfill their blocking assignments and give the Irish running backs space to operate. The same goes for wide receivers when called upon to block.

Additionally, Notre Dame’s running backs must improve in pass protection. That was a particular strength of Kieron Williams, a fifth-round pick of the Los Angeles Rams in 2022. The Irish struggled in the first few games but saw improvement in Week 3. Most importantly, Estim picked up a quarterback blitz on the game-winning pass for Pine to Meyer touchdown pass. Estim’s block, while not super clean, gave Pine enough time to fire a pass on his first read.

It’s easy to blame the offensive line for everything, but for Notre Dame’s offense to have success, they need a cohesive team effort in both the run and pass blocking to create more opportunities this weekend.

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