After last week's disappointing loss to Duke, the Hoos are now 4-3 (2-1) as they enter the stretch run of the season. With just two home games remaining, and needing two wins to secure a bowl berth, the home games are now absolute must wins.
UNC comes in riding a hot streak. Yes, they are only 3-4 (1-2) but they had a led on Notre Dame (in South Bend) late in the 4rd quarter and they just beat a solid GT team this weekend. The Hoos have had success at home against UNC over the years, but have dropped the last two. In total, the Hoos have lost the last 4 games in The South's Oldest Rivalry.
Following this week's game, the Hoos head to Georgia Tech and then Florida State and those are two daunting games. They do not want to go into the final 2 games of the season (Miami and @VT) needing two wins to make a bowl.
Again, this game is must win. For Mike London, a loss this week would almost definitely cost him his job. A win, and he's off the hook for a while. This game is UVA's homecoming week, so hopefully we'll see a good crowd at Scott Stadium.
Players To Watch
#12 QB Marquis Williams - Tall, athletic QB. Very good arm strength, but doesn't always seem to use it and will float some passes. Very accurate when set. Not the most elusive of runners, but has tremendous straight line speed for a QB. Good at creating space with his feet, but can make mistakes when throwing on the run. Completing nearly 65% of his passes this year, for 1776 yards and 15 TDs versus 6 INTs. Has also run for a team leading 448 yards so far this year.
#8 RB T.J. Logan - Good, quick RB with outstanding speed and a solid, compact body. Moves very well laterally. Can be tough to get a hit on. Good open field runner. Also a very good KR and receiver out of the backfield. Very tough to bring down in space. Has 47 carries for 213 yards this year, but has just 1 TDs. Led RBs with 533 yards rushing last year and scored 4 TDs. Also had 2 KR TDs last year.
#34 RB Elijah Hood - Power back with better-than-expected speed. Downhill runner. Not a guy who will dance around either in the backfield or in space. Will run over a DB. Can take a hit and keep running. Very strong lower body helps him stay on his feet through tackles. Not a cutback guy, but a good zone runner. Still learning to play in the passing game, struggles with both routes and blocking. Leads RBs in carries and yards/game with 56 carries for 199 yards in 6 games, but averaging just 3.6 ypc. Originally a Notre Dame recruit. Enrolled at UNC last spring and participated in spring practice.
#3 WR Ryan Switzer - Small, elusive slot WR. Plays very fast and smart. Moves incredibly well in small spaces. Very good at attacking the soft spots in zones. Dangerous on jet sweeps, screens and hitches. Also one of the top PRs in the nation. Had 5 PR TDs last year, tying the NCAA record. Also leads team with 34 receptions for 429 yards and 3 TDs, which is already ahead of last year's production.
#14 WR Quinshad Davis - Tall, lanky WR. Decent speed, but has very good quickness and a good amount of wiggle for such a tall player. Big play ability. Very good hands and will make tough catches in space. Can struggle to get open against top CBs. Second on team last year with 48 receptions for 730 yards and a team-leading 10 TDs last year. Fourth this year with 21 receptions for 267 yards and 4 TDs thus far this year.
#13 WR Mack Hollins - Big, tall WRs. Provides a much different look to Switzer and Davis. Has good straightline speed, but not the quickness of his WR-mates. Good on jump balls and also uses height and speed to excel on deep balls. Averaging over 18 yards per reception this year, with 24 catches for 435 yards. Played almost exclusively on special teams last year after joining the team as a walk on in 2012.
First things first. UNC's offense is very good. They are 38th nationally in total offense, and 16th nationally in scoring. Their passing game is 23rd and their ground game is 76th. They put up 43 points and 510 yards against Notre Dame's very good defense. Marquis Williams is arguably playing as well as anybody in the nation right now.
This is a shotgun, multiple formation offense. They line up with at least 3 WRs on almost all plays. Most plays will involve a single RB and 4 WRs. Very few UNC offensive plays involve 2 RBs, even at the goalline. They rotate between 3 RBs (the two listed above and junior Romar Morris, who is similar to Logan). The RBs do not really have defined roles. Any of the 3 will be used in short-yardage or goalline or on 3rd down. Hood isn't usually on the field in passing situations, because he struggles with blitz pickup.
This is also a fast-paced offense. They will often run play after play with the same personnel without a huddle. Williams has a lot of freedom and flexibility in this offense. This is nothing the Hoos haven't seen before this season, so they should be prepared for this up-tempo, high-octane offense.
The past two weeks, the Hoos have faced running teams. This week will be different. The Tar Heels have more passes this year than runs. And keep in mind that Williams has the green light to take off running on just about any play. That means that many of those runs were designed as passes (or run/pass options).
This is a big play offense that can score points in a hurry. Williams has the arm to throw it deep and the WRs to make plays downfield. He's also capable of taking off and running for big plays. The UNC RBs are solid, if unspectacular (Hood may be spectacular before his career is over), and their running game apart from Williams isn't anything special.
One reason they've been able to generate so many big plays is their OL. Though a relatively young group, they are talented. All five of them saw extensive playing time as freshmen (including OC Lucas Crowley, who played last year as a true freshman. RT Jon Heck is the son of Andy Heck, who spent 3 years as an assistant coach for the Hoos under Al Groh and is now the OL coach for the Kansas City Chiefs.
They aren't the biggest OL, nor the most experienced, but they have played very well the past two weeks after some early season struggles. The Hoos DL is a strength of the team, and was largely beaten by Duke's veteran OL. Getting back to their disruptive play this week will go a long way in stopping UNC's offense. If Williams has time to throw, he could have a big game. The Hoos have had success against mobile QBs this season, so that's a good sign.
UNC is averaging nearly 40 points per game. The Hoos defense has played very well this year, holding teams to just 22 points per game. This is the battle that will likely determine the game. It is absolutely paramount that the Hoos keep UNC from generating big plays and keep them around 20 points.
Players To Watch
#8 Bandit Norkeithus Otis - Basically an undersized DE playing a hybrid DE/OLB position. Used mostly as a pass rusher off the edge in the same mold as Max Valles. Good speed, quick feet and good height. Quick enough to pursue RBs from the backside and can also play off blockers at the point of attack. Solid in zone coverage, although won't be used very much in that. Can get out of position trying to rush the QB. Second on team last year with 13 TFLs and 7.5 sacks. Has missed some time this year, and hasn't had much production yet, with just 2.5 TFLs and 2 sacks. Does have 6 QB hurries though.
#10 MLB Jeff Schoettmer - Probably will remind Wahoo fans of Jon Copper. Former walk-on turned starting MLB. Copper was bigger, but Schoettmer is probably more athletic. Best when playing against the run. Decent in a middle zone coverage, but lacks the quickness to react and make plays on the ball. Will come on delayed blitz at times, but not much of a pass rusher. Second on the team in tackles last year with 85, including 4.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks. Tied for first this year with 44, including 1.5 TFLs.
#9 WLB Travis Hughes - Quick, smallish LB with a high motor. Very good lateral quickness, can cover sideline to sideline. Solid in zone pass coverage but will struggle if asked to cover a TE or RB down the field. Has trouble shedding blocks due to a lack of upper body strength. Best when playing downhill, attacking the ball. Fifth in tackles last year with 76, fourth this year with 38.
#2 CB Des Lawrence - Tall CB with good speed. Was seen mostly as a safety coming out of HS. Could still move there later in his career. Runs well, but doesn't have the lower body flexibility to cover quick WRs man-to-man. Best in zone, and coming up on the ball. Has outstanding ball skills, and uses height and long arms to make plays on the ball. Decent in run support, but can be a bit too stiff and struggles to get off blocks. Tied for first (with Schoettmer) in tackles with 44, including 2.5 TFLs.
#28 CB Brian Walker - One of the top CBs coming out of HS last year. Has good speed and quickness and plays smart. Equally good in both zone and man coverage schemes. Good leaping skills allow him to play jump balls against bigger WRs. Has 3 INTs this year, including one returned for TD. Played extensively last year as a true freshman, totaling 21 tackles and 1 INT.
#7 FS Tim Scott - Spent his first 4 years playing CB. Moved to FS prior to last year's bowl game. Not surprisingly for a former CB, has very good cover skills for a safety. Not a big FS and would likely have to move back to CB to play in the NFL. As either a CB or FS, is very strong in run support. Good tackler. Good speed, and lateral quickness. Third on team with 39 tackles (after 49 all of last year). Second with 5 passes defensed and has 1 INT.
As good as the UNC offense is, their defense is bad. Nationally, they rank 119th in total defense and 124th in scoring defense (in case you don't know, there are only 124 teams in FBS). They are equally bad versus the run (107th) and the pass (119th).
Like so many college football teams these days, UNC plays a nickel as their base defense. This is a hybrid 3-3-5/4-2-5 defense. The Bandit position is basically a pass-rushing OLB, or a stand-up DE. He will put his hand down from time to time and rush out of a 3 point stance, but this is rare.
This is an attacking unit. They want to force turnovers (18th in the country in forcing turnovers) and they want to capitalize on your mistakes. They are willing to give up a big play because it gets the ball back to their offense. The biggest problem with the unit is that they are undersized almost across the board. Otis is undersized whether he's a DE or an OLB. Both of the LBs are on the small side. Tim Scott is a CB playing FS and yet he's bigger than either of the SS options. The DL can be pushed around both on the inside and at the edge.
As you'd expect with a small unit, they can all run. But, they are also a young unit, and they have a tendency to over-run plays. An end around, which the Hoos have used this season, could be successful against this defense. And just showing the end-around look may cause UNC's defenders to hesitate, which could be all Kevin Parks needs to bust a long gain.
Last week, the Hoos faced a team with a poor run defense, and threw the ball over the place. And lost. Hopefully, the coaching staff learned their lesson. The Hoos should be running the ball right down UNCs throat, until the Tar Heels prove they can stop it. I'd like to see the Hoos stick with Kevin Parks a bit more, and use the other two RBs as a change of pace to give Parks a breather. Parks is still the best RB on the team, and he is the guy who will put this offense on his back and win the game. As he did against Pittsburgh a few weeks ago. The biggest takeaway from the Duke game last week was the criminal under-use of Kevin Parks.
Under Greyson Lambert is 100% healthy, we'll see Matt Johns all game. Johns is a gamer, and he's played well in stretches. But he doesn't have much arm strength and he isn't a great downfield passer. What he does well is buy time with his legs, and make good short and intermediate throws. The Hoos should focus on play-action passing and those intermediate passes. Miles Gooch and Andre Levrone have both shown a knack for getting open in front of the DBs. Against UNC's mostly cover-2 defense, this is a good tactic.
UNC's defense can also beaten on the edges with screens and flares. The undersized DBs sometimes struggle making tackles on the edge. A screen to TaQuan Mizzell could be a useful play because of his elusiveness on the edge. I would like to see the Hoos use Mizzell as a slot receiver more, because he runs routes very well, and it would be a good way to get him the ball in space. This is how to best use his ability, something the coaching staff has failed at thus far in his career.
The Hoos offense still isn't very good. This is despite some signs of progress this year. But, UNC's defense is bad. In fact, they are one of the worst units in the country thus far. So, the Hoos figure to have some success. But can they outscore UNC's potent offense?
The Wahoo defense has been very good for most of this season. The offense and special teams of course have let them down. UNC's defense sucks, but their offense is great. Sounds like a good matchup doesn't it? Special teams may well determine the outcome of this game. If Ryan Switzer is able to get free on a punt return, it could swing the game.
UNC's defense relies on turnovers. They forced 3 TOs against Notre Dame, and that is how they stayed in the game against a top-10 opponent. The Hoos offense has struggled with turnovers. This is the week to get that under control.
If the Hoos can hold on to the football and run it down UNC's throat, they can keep UNC's offense off the field and win the game. If they turn it over, or insist on getting into a track meet with the Tar Heels, the Hoos will fall.
As stated above, the Hoos cannot lose this game. A loss this week would be devastating and would completely undo the excitement generated earlier this season. It would also be the death knell for Mike London's coaching career. I'm betting on the home crowd and I'm betting on the players leaving it all on the field for Coach London.
Prediction: Hoos 31, Heels 24