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Wake Forest vs. UNC: Statistical Preview and Breakdown

What are some important stats and figures you should know heading into Saturday's big matchup against UNC? Find out below.

Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

If you haven’t heard the news, Wake Forest has a huge game Saturday night against rival North Carolina in Chapel Hill. The Deacs come in right at .500 following a thrilling 3-0 victory over Boston College on the road last week, while UNC has sprinted to a fast 4-1 start thanks to a dominant rushing attack. So what can we expect the game to look like on Saturday? Let’s first look at some side-by-side stats to get a better feel for the two teams.

A few notes about other important stats you should know:

-Wake Forest is averaging 159 more rushing yards per game this season than last year and have already surpassed the 2014 season rushing total… by 209 yards.

-Since the 17-13 loss to USC in Week 1, UNC has scored more than 35 points in every single one of its contests, including 38 against Georgia Tech last week.

-With #Kinal4Heisman, the punting matchup is always in the Deacs’ favor. Wake ranks 10th in Net Punting Yards in 2015 with an average of 42.2 yards per punt. North Carolina is 121st with an average of 32.58.

-Neither team is very good at getting to the QB. Wake Forest ranks 109th in Team Sacks with an average of 1.2 sacks per game, while UNC ranks dead last with an average of .4 sacks per game. Even worse, UNC’s 2 sacks are a combined 3 yards lost. C’mon man!

-WF and UNC find themselves in the middle of the pack in one of the most underrated stats: Red Zone offense. The Deacs have made 19 RZ trips, with 6 rushing TDs, 2 passing TDs, and 8 FG’s. UNC has made 22 trips with 8 rushing TDs, 5 passing TDs, and 5 FG. On Red Zone Defense, both teams are tied for 16th in conversion percentage, but WF has 3 less TDs allowed in exchange for 3 FG. (Side note: Upon researching this statistic I stumbled across the fact that App St has a RZ D % of 25%! That means opponents have only scored points (FG or TD) ¼ of the time they are inside the 20. That has to be a record of some sort right?

-Don’t say Coach Clawson isn’t a clutch playcaller. Wake Forest is 75% on 4th downs this season (6 of 8), which is 2nd in the ACC and 16th in the nation. North Carolina is 2 for 4 and tied for 60th, albeit having played one less game.

-Just 1 WF rusher is averaging more than 4.0 YPC this season (Kendall Hinton). UNC has 7 players over 4.0 YPC in 2015, and its two leading rushers, Elijah Hood and Marquise Williams, are averaging 6.3 and 7.9 YPC respectively.

Wake Forest Offense vs. UNC Defense:

As you may have guessed, a lot depends on the QB who ends up healthy enough to start behind center Saturday night. Kendall Hinton had been playing terrific in his first two career starts prior to a hip injury that kept him on the sidelines last week. Meanwhile, John Wolford was leading the ACC in passing yards before an ankle injury against Army in the 3rd game of the year knocked him out, and although JW did end up starting last week, he certainly didn’t look 100% on the field. The two offer a very different skillset and it’s unclear which would be more valuable in Chapel Hill at the moment. A lot of fans seem to be desperate for Hinton to get the chance this Saturday, but it’s also important to note that he has yet to play a big road game in the ACC in his career and the atmosphere at UNC certainly will exceed what he saw against Army, Indiana, and FSU.

Hinton certainly looks to be far superior at evading pressure and making something happen out of nothing, but will pressure really be that much of a problem? UNC is dead last (Yes, tied for #126) in Team Sacks this season with .4 per game and have struggled to put pressure on opposing Quarterbacks all season long. Georgia Tech’s QB Justin Thomas had his best passing game of the season against UNC two weeks ago, which says a lot given the Yellow Jackets’ O-Line is built for run protection and the option rather than pass protection. Given the fact we know the WF QB will have time to make throws, I would much rather have Wolford under center to pick apart the defense with quick slants and out-patterns given his experience in big-games and overall composure. We’ve seen what Wolford can do when he doesn’t have opposing lineman in the backfield within a second of every snap, and to be honest, I believe he gives WF the best chance to win. He also received some helpful news this week when it was reported that star UNC DB MJ Stewart (ACC leader in INT’s) was suspended indefinitely for a violation of team rules as well as backup Freshman DB Mike Hughes. North Carolina is 4th in the country in PYPG allowed this season, but with their secondary in turmoil and the WF run game continuing to struggle, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wake chooses to air it out a fair amount on Saturday night. If nothing is coming through the passing game, a UNC rush defense that is allowing 234 yards per game (116th in the nation) might inspire Dave Clawson to give Tyler Bell and Matt Colburn some touches, but I certainly see that as a secondary gameplan. Wake’s run game is just as bad as UNC rushing defense, so in this situation you go with what you feel most comfortable, which is playing to your QB’s strengths and gaining yards through the air. The offense shouldn’t have too much of a problem putting up points if Wolford is completely healthy. It’s the defense that has its work cut out for them on Saturday.

UNC Offense vs. Wake Forest Defense

The real heavyweight matchup on Saturday will be on this side of the ball. UNC has had no problem racking up yards and first downs so far this season and has scored more than 35 points or more in their last 4 games. On the other side, WF is coming off a shutout of BC and strong showing against FSU in which it kept the Noles virtually motionless in the second half. This matchup is going to be won on how much Wake can control the UNC run-game on 1st and 2nd down. The Heels are averaging 6.1 yards per carry so far this season and RB Elijah Hood and QB Marquise Williams are practically picking up 1st downs at will. Although WF has one of the best 3rd down % defenses in the country right now, if UNC can frequently get 5-6 yards on 1st down the Deacs will have a serious problem keeping that percentage low and getting their offense back on the field. Wake’s Secondary has proven to be the real star section of this group, while the team is very mediocre in rushing defense ranking 60th in the nation and allowing 153 yards per game. My one real worry heading into Saturday is UNC will be able to put together long, exhausting drives on the back of their strong run-game, wearing out the WF defense and keeping John Wolford and co. helpless on the sideline. There’s nothing more frustrating than having an opponent simply ground-and-pound to 6 points on a few consecutive drives, and if UNC can have success with this gameplan early, it’ll be really hard for Wake to maintain momentum or get into any sort of rhythm on offense.

However, if Wake can force some must-throw situations, UNC QB Marquise Williams is far less dangerous in the air than on the ground. Against South Carolina in Week 1 he threw 3 INT’s against what has turned out to be a rather mediocre Secondary. In his last two games combined he has thrown for 199 yards, 0 TD’s, and just a single pass over 50% completion percentage. If the Wake Forest defense is going to create turnovers Saturday it’s going to come through pressuring Williams into making bad throws. The only real question is how often will WF force Williams to be in a must-throw situation in the first place?

The Verdict

The line right now for the game is -17 UNC, and if I were a betting man, I’d expect Wake to cover. North Carolina should be able to have their way in the run game, but assuming Wake Forest has a QB that is healthy and confident the Deacs will find ways to score against a weakened UNC Secondary and less than intimidating pass rush. I think UNC will get on the board early and often and Wake will be forced to play catch-up all game long. Sadly, the comeback falls short again. 28-24 UNC

List your score predictions and how you think the game will go below!