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2020 Wake Forest Football Opponent Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

An added game (assuming it happens) in the oldest rivalry in the state is perhaps the only upside of the pandemic

Military Bowl Presented by Northrop Grumman - North Carolina v Temple Photo by G Fiume/Getty Images

Note: Projected depth chart courtesy of InsideCarolina from 247sports. Stats courtesy of ESPN.com.

Today we continue previewing Wake Forest football’s 2020 opponents in the ACC’s modified schedule due to the COVID-19 pandemic (I still seriously doubt they will actually be playing this game or any others).

If there is absolutely anything positive to come out of this bizarre year, it is that the oldest collegiate football rivalry in the state of North Carolina gets another episode that wasn't originally on the schedule. Wake Forest is slated to travel to Chapel Hill on November 14th to resume this rivalry that started in 1888. And this time it even counts as a conference game!

Last year the Deacons defeated the Tar Heels 24-18 in a NON-CONFERENCE matchup (yes it’s still weird to say that even though it’s been scheduled for several years, and it’s still WRONG as can be), and will return to Kenan Stadium in 2021 for another non-conference matchup as a continued part of the series. Last season’s game was one Carolina fans are still complaining about how there was one second left and they were robbed, as they SUPPOSEDLY would have won the game if they could have run one more play. I have my doubts.

Mack Brown is back (if I hear Mack is Back one more time my eyes might roll permanently crooked in my head) for his second season, and his energy really ignited both the fanbase and the team last season. The Tar Heels finished 2019 with a record of 7-6 while going 4-4 in the ACC. They ended the season by destroying Temple in the Military Bowl 55-13.

Brown has one of the best classes in school history coming in, with some guys who look to make an immediate impact.

Carolina returns almost its entire offense from last season, losing only offensive lineman Charlie Heck, who graduated and was taken in the 2020 NFL Draft.

On defense, the Tar Heels lost four starters. They must replace the production of both starting defensive tackles in Jason Strowbridge (graduated and taken in 2020 NFL Draft) and Aaron Crawford (graduated), linebacker Dominique Ross (graduated), and safety Miles Dorn (graduated).

Offense

Quarterback Sam Howell, who broke all kinds of freshman records last season, returns as the starting quarterback and one of the best returning players in the ACC. As a true freshman last season, Howell completed 259 of 422 attempts 3641 yards 38 touchdowns, and 7 interceptions. He had a 61.4% completion rate, averaged 8.6 yards per completion, and had a quarterback rating of 160.2. He also had one rushing touchdown. Howell was a 2019 Freshman All-American, the 2019 ACC Offensive Rookie of the Year, and the 2019 ACC Rookie of the Year. He has been named to the 2020 Davey O’Brien Award Watch List. He will be backed up by redshirt sophomore Jace Ruder and true freshman Jacolby Criswell.

Senior Michael Carter and junior Javonte Williams are back at running back. Last season, Carter rushed for 1003 yards and 3 touchdowns on 177 attempts, while averaging 5.7 yards per carry. He also had 21 receptions for 154 yards and 2 touchdowns. In 2019, Williams rushed for 933 yards and 5 touchdowns on 166 attempts, while averaging 5.6 yards per carry. He also had 17 receptions for 176 yards and a touchdown.

The Tar Heels return all three starting wide receivers in junior Dyami Brown, senior Dazz Newsome, and senior Beau Corrales. They also have sophomore Emery Simmons, redshirt junior Rontavious Groves, and a healthy junior Antoine Green, along with tight end redshirt senior Garrett Walston. Last year, Brown had 51 receptions for 1034 yards and 12 touchdowns with an average of 20.3 yards per reception. Newsome had 72 receptions for 1018 yards and 10 touchdowns with an average of 14.1 yards per reception. Corrales had 40 catches for 575 yards and 6 touchdowns with an average of 14.4 yards per catch.

The offensive line returns four starters from last season. Redshirt sophomore left guard Joshua Ezeudu, redshirt junior center Brian Anderson, redshirt junior right guard Marcus McKethan, and redshirt junior right tackle Jordan Tucker all return from last season’s line. Sophomore Asim Richard is likely to step in at left tackle and has a tall task at hand to replace Heck.

Expect some of the freshmen to see action also, especially if anyone goes down with injury or underperforms. The Heels are loaded with depth this year.

Offensive coordinator Phil Longo will have a highly experienced group to work with, and will look build upon last season’s success and return the Heels to the top of the Coastal Division.

Defense

Carolina returns a fair amount of starters on the defensive side of the ball, but doesn't have quite the same amount of experience as the offense.

On the defensive line, sophomore Tamari Fox will likely start at end, redshirt junior Raymond Vohasek has moved to defensive tackle, and redshirt sophomore Jahlil Taylor will likely get the nod at nose tackle. Redshirt freshmen Kristian Varner and Kevin Hester will also see time on the line.

Redshirt seniors Tomon Fox and Tyrone Harper should be the outside linebackers who can also drop down and be a second defensive end. Redshirt junior Jeremiah Gemmel and redshirt senior Chazz Surratt (older brother of Wake Forest’s own Sage Surratt) shore up the middle of the linebacking corps. Sophomores Khadry Jackson and Eugene Asante will also see significant time at linebacker.

Sophomore Storm Duck and junior Trey Morrison are likely to return as the starting corners, Redshirt senior Myles Wolfolk, sophomore Don Chapman, redshirt sophomore Cam’Ron Kelly, and senior D.J. Ford will look to round at the secondary as the starting safeties and nickelback.

Look for some highly-rated freshmen to also step in and contribute from day one.

Co-defensive coordinators Jay Bateman and Tommy Thigpen will look to catch the defense’s production up to the offense’s from last season. If the defense is greatly improved the Tar Heels should be the team to beat in the Coastal Division.

Special Teams

Sophomore Noah Ruggles returns as Carolina’s starting kicker. Ruggles converted on 19 of 27 field goals last season with a long from 49 yards. He converted on all 45 extra point attempts. He will be backed up by graduate transfer from Furman Grayson Atkins who could quickly take the starting job if Ruggles struggles (no pun intended).

Sophomore Ben Kiernan is back as the punter.

Sophomore Drew Little returns as the long snapper.

Dazz Newsome and Rontavius Groves will likely return punts and Michael Carter is likely to be the primary kick returner, along with Dyami Brown.

The Deacs are currently scheduled to travel to Chapel to take on the Tar Heels on November 14th. Here’s hoping the season actually happens (which again I highly doubt) and this oldest rivalry in North Carolina ends up going Wake’s way as it did last year. Go Deacs!