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Wake Forest Football Preview: North Carolina Tar Heels

Back-to-back in state opponents

NCAA Football: Wake Forest at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Deacs return home in week 11 to take on another in-state rival, the North Carolina Tar Heels—and this time it’s actually a conference game. Wake and UNC have actually been pretty similar teams over the past couple of seasons; both relied heavily on high scoring offenses because they both had defenses that, for the most part, could not stop anyone. The result has been two very entertaining games with basically no defense where both teams scored over 50 points. While Wake Forest held double digit 4th quarters leads in both of the past 2 meetings, they allowed the Tar Heels to score a combined 52 4th quarter points and lost both of those games. That was never more painful than last year, when the late collapse ended Wake’s undefeated season. Hopefully this year, the Deacs will get some revenge.


  • Opponent: North Carolina
  • Date: Saturday, November 12th, 2022
  • Location: Truist Field | Winston Salem, NC
  • Vegas Insider Total Wins: 7.5
  • 2021 Record: 6-7
  • Previous Matchup: Wake 55—UNC 58 (2021)
  • All time vs Wake Forest: 71-36-2

As previously mentioned, UNC was a very similar team to the Deacs last season. They had a high-powered offense, that, because of the weakness of the defense, basically had to score every time they had the ball to win games. In fact, when UNC scored 34 or more points, they were a perfect 6-0; when they scored fewer than 34 points, they lost all 7 games. That puts a ton of pressure on the offense and gives them almost 0 margin for error.

The Tar Heel offense finished last season 19th in the nation with 35 points per game and 10th in the nation with 468 yards per game. They were a dominant rushing team, gaining over 200 yards per game on the ground and 5.4 yards per carry—the 8th best average in the nation. Unfortunately for the Heels, most of that offense revolved around the playmaking ability of QB Sam Howell, who now plays for the Washinton Commanders. Howell basically did it all for the Heels, completing 63% of his passes for over 3,000 yards, and 24 touchdowns, while also leading the team in rushing attempts with 183 carries for 828 yards. That leaves a big hole for redshirt freshman Drake Maye to try to fill—an uphill task considering Maye attempted just 10 pass attempts last season. Not only did the Heels lose their starting quarterback, but they also lost their leading rusher, Ty Chandler, who you may remember absolutely gashed the Deacs to the tune of 213 yards and 4 touchdowns last season. Between Howell and Chandler, the Heels will have to replace almost 2,000 yards and 24 rushing touchdowns from last year’s squad,

The good news for the Heels, and new starting QB Drake Maye, is that WR Josh Downs is still on the team. Downs is the type of receiver who is a quarterback’s best friend; he always finds a way to get open and can turn just about any play into something special. Downs finished last season with an ACC best 101 receptions for 1,300 yards and 8 touchdowns. The Tar Heel quarterbacks as a unit completed 237 passes total last season, which means that nearly half (42%) of all UNC completions last season went to Josh Downs. With a young QB, I honestly wouldn’t be shocked to see Downs get even more receptions this season as a sort of security blanket for Maye. Slowing him down will likely be the key to keeping the Heels out of the endzone this season.

The North Carolina defense was a different story, as they were easily one of the worst in the nation last season. The Tar Heels gave up 31.1 points and 418.6 yards per game last year, which was 105th and 93rd in the nation respectively. You thought the Wake Forest defense was non-existent last season? Well, the UNC defense gave up 2 points and 5 yards MORE per game than the Deacs. It’s not surprising, then, that the Heels also made a change at defensive coordinator in the offseason, firing noted cheater Jay Bateman and replacing him with former DC Gene Chizik. In his previous 2-year stint at UNC, Chizik’s defenses gave up 436 and 408 yards per game, but just 24.5 and 24.9 points per game in 2015 and 2016. That 2015 team finished 11-3 and made a trip to the ACC Championship Game. He’ll have some talent to work with in junior DL Myles Murphy, who finished last season with 38 total tackles, 9 tackles for loss, and 4 sacks, and junior linebacker Cedric Gray, who led the team with 100 tackles and grabbed 2 interceptions last season. The Heels will have to find someone to fill in for senior DL Tomari Fox, who was suspended for the season after taking a banned substance.


There are a lot of question marks in this game that will probably be answered between now November 12th. The most obvious to me would be how well Drake Maye commands the UNC offense and how much of the production of Sam Howell he is able to replace. Both teams' defenses have been horrible lately, and while both teams made changes to address that issue, I don’t think those problems are going to be solved in just one season. I fully expect another high scoring shootout. The Deacs have been the better team for 6 of the 8 previous quarters against the Tar Heels, but they have just completely failed to close out both games. With this one being at home, I like Wake to finally finish out a game against the Heels and come away with a win.