We had the pleasure of having Carolina March offer us some insight about the Tar Heels for this weekend's upcoming game between undefeated Virginia (I just like saying that) and undefeated North Carolina in the 116th iteration of the South's Oldest Rivalry.
1. Carolina's defensive front seven are bigger, faster and stronger than what we've seen out of Indiana and William & Mary this year. Does the line ever get tired? What can we expect will and won't work against these guys?
The line is deep, with a lot of players who got a lot more game experience than they expected to before Marvin Austin hopped on Twitter. Success has brought in more talent to the positions, and I'm not sure how to stop them. Georgia Tech's option has done a pretty good job of paralyzing them in the past, and a good scrambling quarterback will result in the line playing a more containment style defense than rushing the quarterback, but otherwise, they make few mistakes.
The secondary, alas, is prone to more lapses in judgment and over-pursuing ball carriers. Your best bet is to get the ball behind them.
2. Virginia and UNC have faced a similar-caliber level of teams so far this season (W&M / JMU ... Indiana / Rutgers). Both squads took care of their first games handily, while eking out the victory in week two. What did you see in the Tar Heels after these first games that give you hope on the season?
Bryn Renner's performance against James Madison was a big high point, considering it was his first college start. He was one throw shy of the NCAA record for completion percentage, going 23 of 24. And although he came down to earth against Rutgers, with three interceptions, he's still doing a great job at finding his receivers.
The other good sign has been Giovani Bernard joining Ryan Houston in the backfield. I was a little concerned about Houston shouldering the rushing game on his own, as he's a physical back who runs in a punishing style, but with Bernard taking half the snaps and running with more finesse and speed, the pair is much more difficult to defend. It's no accident that three of Bernard's four touchdowns have come from 12 or more yards out.
3. UNC Head Coach Everett Withers obviously hasn't had the luxury of a full off-season to plan the team as he'd like to see it. But being DC for three years there, he's not exactly a new face for the team. Have there been growing pains associated specifically with Withers (as opposed to associated with all the surrounding NCAA issues that led to this)? What changes were immediately made?
I don't think there's been many changes made at all, as evidenced by the JMU game ball being given to Butch Davis. Any adjustments are probably being held in reserve instead of being shown against middling non-conference opponents, or masked by new players on the offense.
4. The Tar Heels are second to last in the country in turnover margin, giving up a total of six over two games (2 fumbles, 4 interceptions), while forcing none of their own. Five of those came from last week alone. Was that something Rutgers was doing right, or is that going to be a problem for Carolina all year? (And how did they pull off the W, anyhow?)
I'm hoping it's not going to be a problem all year, but many of the turnovers were unforced. Bryn Renner has tried to force a few passes against better judgment, and skyed one or two that ended in opponents' hands.That should diminish with experience. As for the fumbles, they were a mixture of not carrying the ball well and sheer stupidity. The Heels fumbled while trying to take a knee, after all. (They recovered.)
As for the win, Rutgers defense wasn't that strong, and UNC took away their running game. It doesn't matter how many drives you start in short-yardage situations in you can only advance the ball half of the time.
5. With as much attention as the Carolina D-Line has gotten, perhaps the O-Line has been overlooked this year. Sophomore QB Bryn Renner hasn't been sacked once all season. Where does the credit go for this?
The O-line was the weak spot for Carolina for the first few years of Butch Davis's tenure. Last year they really came into their own, and most of those players are still around this season.What we're seeing now is the payoff of good recruiting and a lot of experience earned by getting playing time early. While I don't know if they'll look as strong against tougher competition than the last few weeks, they're, behind the D-line and Dwight Jones, a part of the team I don't worry about at all.
Renner also has a bit of scrambling ability, and a tendency to throw into coverage rather than take the sack. I'm impressed by the former, frustrated by the latter.
Prediction time! The series is pretty close, with UNC at 57 and UVA at 54 and 4 ties. What's the final score?
UNC 31, Virginia 16.
Feel free to boo the prediction in the comments below.