The Hoos have now lost 6 in a row, and sit at 2-7 (0-5). They go back on the road for the first time since the Maryland game, which ended in a particularly heart-wrenching way. Last week, the Hoos were simply outmatched by a very good Clemson team.
The Tar Heels are 3-5 (2-3), but have won two in a row. The Heels have lost just one game at home, and that was to #11 Miami. The Heels also lost just once at home last season.
As everybody probably knows by now, this is the "OIdest Rivalry in the South" and one of the oldest rivalries in college football. The Hoos and Heels will be playing for the 118th time this weekend. The Hoos have won 54, lost 59 and tied 4 in the series. That includes 3 straight losses. Their last win, however, came in Chapel Hill, in 2009. Can they repeat that upset?
WR: #14 Quinshad Davis - 6'4" 205 lb, Sophomore; #5 T.J. Thorpe - 6'0" 200 lb, Sophomore; #28 Kendrick Singleton - 6'2" 200 lb, Sophomore; #6 Sean Tapley - 6'1" 185 lb, Junior; #84 Bug Howard - 6'4" 195 lb, Freshman; #3 Ryan Switzer - 5'10" 175 lb, Freshman
LT: #68 James Hurst - 6'7" 305 lb, Senior; #77 John Ferranto - 6'5" 290 lb, Freshman
LG: #70 Caleb Peterson - 6'5" 300 lb, RS Freshman; #54 Will Dancy - 6'4" 295 lb, Sophomore
C: #60 Russell Bodine - 6'4" 310 lb, Junior; #72 Lucas Crowley - 6'3" 270 lb, Freshman
RG: #78 Landon Turner - 6'3" 320 lb, Sophomore; #62 David Collins - 6'8" 310 lb, Senior
RT: #71 Jon Heck - 6'6" 300 lb, RS Freshman; #69 Nick Appel - 6'6" 310 lb, Junior
So, first things first. Bryn Renner has ruled out for the rest of the season with a shoulder injury. He is still listed on top of the UNC depth chart, which is why I listed him above. Marquis Williams, however, will be the starter for the Heels. On paper, at least, this is a big loss for the Heels. Renner has thrown for over 8000 yards in his career and entered the season on the Watch Lists for most of the top awards including the Maxwell (best player) and the O'Brien (best QB). However, Williams is far more mobile, and a better fit for the offense that Larry Fedora wants to run. In limited action, Williams has completed a higher percentage of his passes, for more yards per attempt and about the same yards per completion. Williams' speed gives the UNC offense an extra facet that Renner doesn't provide.
Williams is the 3rd leading rusher on the team, behind the top two RBs. Blue leads the team with just 266 yards on the ground. This has been the problem with UNC offense, they haven't been able to run the ball at all. They are 111th nationally in rushing, despite being 19th in passing offense. This, despite a nearly 50/50 run-pass ratio. As a whole, the UNC offense is 64th in the nation in yards, but just 84th in scoring.
Williams may help the rushing stats but even though he's played well, they will lose Renner's passing ability, which will be a big loss. The strongest part of UNC's offense is their receiving corps. That group is led by junior TE Ebron, who could be a first round pick in this year's NFL draft. He leads the team with 44 receptions for 669 yards and 3 TDs. He's had a 71 yard reception, which gives you an idea of the kind of speed he has, especially for a TD. Davis is also a big time receiver, who is big and fast. He has 32 catches for 476 yards and 7 TDs. The rest of the receiving corps is really young, and while they have potential, none of them have really stepped up. Howard is a kid the Heels are high on, and he looked good last week. Thorpe has a ton of potential, but is mostly used as a kick returner right now.
The UNC OL is big and strong, but young. Heck is the son of former UVA assistant coach Andy Heck. The elder Andy is currently the OL coach for the chiefs. Heck grew up in Charlottesville, why isn't he playing for the Hoos? Peterson was one of the top OL recruits in the nation last year, but he's still learning how to play college FB. The strong point of the UNC OL is Hurst, who has been All-ACC for the past 3 years and was on the Outland Trophy Watch List. He's been a rock at LT, but the rest of the OL has struggled. They've allowed 2.25 sacks per game (82nd nationally), 6.88 TFLs per game (98th nationally), plus the aforementioned problems on the ground.
The Hoos have shown the ability to shut down mediocre offenses. But, they've also shown a propensity to give up big plays. The UNC offense isn't great, and will be starting a young, inexperienced QB. However, they have a lot of big play guys and are capable of scoring quickly. The Hoos defense, led by coach Tenuta, likes to blitz and make big plays. But, in this case, it might make more sense to play it safer. UNC isn't likely to drive down the field on 10 play drives. If we can force them into that kind of game, we could shut them down. We also want to disguise coverages as much as possible, trying to confuse Williams. And keeping a guy like DaQuan Romero in as a QB spy would help stop Williams from beating us with his legs.
DE: #95 Kareem Martin - 6'6" 295 lb, Senior; #44 Junior Gnonkonde - 6'4" 240 lb, RS Freshman
DT: #96 Ethan Farmer - 6'3" 295 lb, Junior; #97 Shawn Underwood - 6'1" 305 lb, Junior
DT: #93 Tim Jackson - 6'5" 285 lb, Senior; #98 Justin Thomason - 6'4" 295 lb, Sophomore
WLB: #9 Travis Hughes - 6'2" 225 lb, Junior; #80 Jack Tabb - 6'3" 240 lb, Junior
MLB: #34 Jeff Schoettmer - 6'1" 230 lb, Sophomore; #33 Nathan Staub 6'2" 240 lb, RS Freshman
Ram: #11 Malik Simmons - 5'11" 190 lb, Sophomore; #20 Brandon Ellerbe - 6'0" 220 lb, Junior
CB: #4 Jabari Price - 6'0" 200 lb, Senior; #16 Alex Dixon - 6'0" 185 lb, Sophomore
FS: #10 Tre Boston - 6'1" 205 lb, Senior; #25 Kameron Jackson - 5'11" 190 lb, Sophomore
SS: #26 Dominique Green - 5'11" 185 lb, Freshman, #27 Darien Rankin - 5'11" 195 lb, Sophomore
CB: #7 Tim Scott - 5'11" 190 lb, Junior; #37 T.J. Jiles - 5'11" 180 lb Sophomore
The Heels have also been disappointing defensively. The reason are much the same as the offense. Simply put, they can't stop the run. They're 101st in the nation in rushing defense, giving up over 200 yards per game. They're solid against the pass (45th), but just 65th in scoring defense. One problem has been an inability to create turnovers (just 12 on the season) and an inability to stop teams on third down (91st in 3rd down percentage defense).
The Heels run a hybrid defense that is kind of a 4-3/3-4/4-2-5/3-3-5 defense. They have two different hybrid positions, the "Bandit", who is really a LB but will often lineup on the edge as a DE. Then they have the "Ram", who is really a safety, but will line up in the box as an extra LB. So, in reality, the defense is a 3-3-5, but by moving players around, they are very flexible.
Kareem Martin is the top playmaker on the defense, leading with 12.5 TFLs and 5.5 sacks. He's also 3rd in tackles, quite an achievement for a DE. He will play on Sundays, but he might be a better fit in the NFL as a 3-4 DE. The two Bandit, Otis and Lipford, are both playmakers. Otis and is second on the team in both sacks and TFLs while Lipford is 3rd. In the middle, Farmer and Jackson are mostly just space-eaters. While both are solid, neither are real difference makers.
Schoettmer leads the team in tackles, with 65, and has thrown in ½ a sack, 2 passes broken up, 2 QB hurries and a fumble recovery. He's a walk-on safety, who is starting at MLB mostly due to some tremendous effort. Hughes is 2nd in tackles. He was a high-profile recruit at ILB, but has moved to OLB, although in UNC's scheme, there are often only 2 LBs on a given play. For example, on obvious pass downs, the Bandit is likely being used as a pass rusher and the Ram is being used as a DB.
The UNC secondary is led by Price and Boston. They are 4-5 on the team in tackles. Boston leads the team with 3 INTs and 7 passes defended. Price doesn't have any INTs, but that's mostly because teams don't challenge him very often. On the other side, Tim Scott has 2 picks. Green has been impressive for a freshman, he's 6th in tackles plus has 2 picks and 4 passes defended. The Ram, Simmons mostly, has been somewhat disappointing and might be a large part of why this defense hasn't been as good as expected. The Ram is a guy who is supposed to be making plays all over the field, and Simmons hasn't been up to the task.
The Hoos should be able to find success running the ball this week. I may sound like a broken record, but using Watford in the read-option is a great idea this week. That, combined with play action, should be able to get Watford going moreso than he was last week. Hopefully, we'll see some of Greyson Lambert earlier than the 4th quarter. This season is over, so it's time to see what the highly regarded QB is capable of in some real game action.
If the offense continues to be what it has been most of the season, UNC's defense is going to look better than it has been. Runs up the middle don't work. Attacking the perimeter is a good way to succeed, because the UNC LBs are not particularly fast. The Hoos can use pulling linemen and some good blocking WRs to pick up some big chunks of yardage on pitches and stretch plays. The WR screens aren't likely to work, because UNC's DBs stay home. The pressure comes from the front 4 (three DL and the Bandit).
UNC Special Teams
K: #18 Thomas Moore - 5'10" 200 lb, Junior
P: #30 Tommy Hibbard - 5'10" 190 lb, RS Freshman
KR: Thorpe, Tapley
PR: Switzer, Thorpe
Moore is a solid kicker, but doesn't have the greatest leg strength. He's missed just 2 kicks all year, but both were outside 40 yards and his season long is just 39. Hibbard is one of the top punters in the nation.
The Heels are solid on punt returns and punt coverage, but their kick return units are both weak. A big kick return could certainly help the Hoos out. It's about time for the special teams to make a big play. They've been close a few times.
The Heels have been playing better over the past few weeks. The Hoos have also, last week notwithstanding. They were close against Maryland, and close against Georgia Tech and we're not even going to discuss the Duke game. A good performance by the Hoos might be enough to beat this UNC team, which just isn't as talented as the past few years of Tar Heel teams.
I wish I could pick the Hoos. If they were at home, I might even do it. But, on the road, with this team and this coaching staff, I can't do it. The Hoos have admirably played hard all year despite the poor results. That is a testament to the coaching staff's ability to reach their players. Now, if only they could coach.
Prediction: Tar Heels 24, Hoos 20