It’s the best day of the week: GAMEDAYYYYY. To be civil I decided to reach across the aisle and have a nice e-chat with our favorite school that wears blue. Thanks to Jake Lawrence over at Tar Heel Blog for being so helpful and if you want to see my answers to their questions, you can go check it out over there. Now lets dive into some
Blogger So Dear: I have to start with this: how does this feel to be a non-conference game?
Tar Heel Blog: I range from “this is a great idea” to “meh, whatever”. I think it’s a smart way to ensure two original ACC members are able to play more than every seven years. North Carolina is a unique state with so many FBS programs in such close proximity and that should be seen, marketed, and executed as an advantage. Acknowledging there are reasons and complications of having 14 football programs to accommodate, it’s ridiculous the ACC has let this series (along with State/Duke) get pushed aside.
BSD: Sam Howell, good kid, good arm, just how good has he been as a true freshman?
THB: I think the results speak for themselves. Consecutive fourth quarter comebacks. Zero interceptions. Completion percentage of 64.6%, 260 ypg, and over 10 yards per attempt. ACC Rookie of the Week (twice) and ACC QB of the Week (once). All of this against two presumed top-level defenses in SCAR and Miami. So yeh, he’s been pretty good.
The big thing is how quickly you can see the improvement, even in just two weeks. The mistakes from South Carolina weren’t as noticeable against Miami. It’s been as close to a dream start as possible.
BSD: Who do you look for to make an impact in this game on each side of the ball?
THB: On defense, keep an eye on Tomon Fox. In UNC’s new defensive scheme, there’s a lot of movement and deception creating rushing lanes for the linebackers to exploit. Fox leads the team with 3.5 sacks and has adapted really well from a previous DE to a hybrid DE/rush LB. Wake’s QB, Jamie Newman, hasn’t displayed much mobility (24 rushes, 49 yards when adjusted for sacks) and Wake’s run game can be slow to develop behind the line.
On offense, the main name is Javonte Williams. In two games, he’s gained 178 yards on 28 carries. That includes 10 carries and 76 yards (7.6 ypc) against the vaunted Miami front seven. So far, UNC has relied on the run game to open up the passing game with 88 rushing attempts compared to 49 passing attempts. Wake’s run defense has been respectable (4th in the ACC), but Rice and Utah State are a different level of competition. I’m interested to see if UNC’s ground game can continue to find success now that there are two games of film available to scout.
BSD: What’s to be expected now, being down a starting CB all year and starting Center for an undetermined amount of time?
THB: Next man up. Losing Patrice Rene at CB is a major blow. The Heels were already thin at the position, and he was their top corner. There’s a lot of youth that will now be thrown to the wolves and be expected to perform. I fully expect Wake to test the secondary early and often with Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington.
Losing Nick Polino at center hurts, just because depth is so important on the line. However, his back-up Brian Anderson played the second half against SCAR and performed admirably against Miami in relief. The offensive line can recover.
BSD: What realistic expectations did the UNC faithful have coming into this year, and how do you think they finish?
THB: Expectations likely depended on A) if you thought Mack was the right man for the job and B) how much of a rebuild you thought UNC really needed. Most fans just wanted a bowl appearance. Some just wanted progress from 2 wins. The schedule was largely viewed as a major obstacle.
I always firmly expected 7-5 with a path to 8 wins and top-3 in the Coastal. This team is going to win some they probably shouldn’t, and will lose one or two they should win. The misconception is that people thought the 5-19 record over the past two seasons meant the Heels lacked talent. That was always a wrong assumption. Talent was not the problem, and we’ve seen that now the past two weeks.
Now? It’s not a stretch to say this team has shown they can compete for the Coastal and finish in the 8-10 win range. They could also still stumble to 6-6. The next two weeks against two good opponents in Wake and App State will be more telling than the previous two weeks.
BSD: How big does the base/yourself think this game is relative to the rest of the schedule?
THB: I think it’s bigger than most people give it credit for. Not for the overall record or for conference standings, but for really evaluating UNC as a Coastal contender or an inconsistent pretender. They’ve struggled with in-state road games the past three seasons, and coming off two highly emotional wins are they disciplined enough to maintain that effort?
Win, and the hype machine goes into overdrive and will reach unrealistic levels among the fan base. Lose, and the fan base will largely be disappointed but will acknowledge it doesn’t mean much to overall season goals.
BSD: UNC wins if they come out and do what?
THB: Establish the run game, eat some clock, and limit Wake’s passing game from scoring on explosive plays.
BSD: On the other hand what can they not do if they want to win this game?
THB: The turnover bug hasn’t hit yet. A short week, on the road, after two major wins is the perfect time for it to strike. If the Heels give away possessions and/or shoot themselves with penalties, Wake can capitalize. I don’t know if UNC is mentally tough enough (yet) to overcome self-imposed obstacles.
BSD: Who scares you the most on the Wake Forest team?
THB: Surratt and Washington. Tall receivers on the outside or who make big targets across the middle will exploit the major weaknesses in this UNC defense.
BSD: Lastly, who wins, why, and score?
THB: A win or loss by one or two possessions wouldn’t surprise me. But in this case, I think the UNC offense is on the verge of breaking out and I’m not sold on Wake’s defense after they gave up 34 points to Utah State and 21 points to Rice’s back-up quarterback.
What do you guys think about all of this?
Comment below, yell at me on twitter, buy a ticket to the game and go and wear black. But most importantly, Win the Tailgate and GTHC.