Although the Tar Heels’ trip to South Bend may seem more like a field trip players and coaches can tell their future grandchildren about, they insist defeating the heavily favored Irish is their ultimate goal.
“For our team to make a road trip like this, it’s a great experience,” John Bunting said. “This is a trip that last summer everybody was looking forward to, so there’s no reason to change that. That aspect has not changed. Let’s enjoy every second of it, but let’s remember the game is played and let’s make it competitive. The focus is always going to be on the game itself.”
However, the Notre Dame camp is of the mindset that UNC could be in a prime position to pull an upset based on the residual emotion from Bunting’s firing two weeks ago.
“They are playing for their coach, trying to send him off the right way,” Irish all-time leading passer Brady Quinn said. “Winning this game, especially the senior guys and you’ve had a rough season, you want to have some win to say at least we got that one or that’s something special.”
Ranked No. 11 in this week’s AP poll, the Irish is the highest ranked team the Tar Heels will have faced this year – the fourth ranked opponent they’ve faced this season.
UNC is coming off its best all around performance in last week’s 24-17 loss to then-24th ranked Wake Forest in Chapel Hill.
Notre Dame safety Tom Zbikowski said, “Everyone knows that coach had just been fired, and someone that’s recruited you and been in your home, that's someone you probably want to represent. You look at the way they played last week. I think they played pretty strong.”
Tailback Ronnie McGill rushed for a season-high 117 yards. The team’s leading scorer with 42 points, McGill could become the first non-kicker to lead the Tar Heels in scoring since Leon Johnson in 1996.
Kicker Connor Barth has connected on 6-of-6 field goal attempts and is perfect on his extra point tries.
Carolina’s defense held the Deacons to 289 yards of total offense, the second-lowest output by an opponent this season.
“The beginning spots of college football are there,” Bunting said. “I’m hopeful we can play better than we did last week and play with these guys.”
North Carolina’s minus-14 turnover ratio is the worst in the nation. Much of that is a factor of two quarterbacks that have had trouble completing downfield passes to their teammates. Joe Dailey and Cam Sexton have combined on 15 interceptions. Carolina’s defense has managed just one interception the season.
At some point the luck of the bouncing ball should turn in the Tar Heels’ direction, a concept not lost on the Irish.
“They have a lot of athleticism,” Quinn said. “They are a team that cannot be underestimated or looking at their schedule or how they are ranked right now.”