This is the third game of the year for the new regime leading North Carolina football, and it’s the third different challenge for head coach Larry Fedora. In the first week of the 2012 season the Tar Heels played their first game at home, then the following week it was time for the first ever game on the road for the new staff. This time around the program will face their first ever Top 25 opponent under the new man at the helm in Chapel Hill as they travel to the Bluegrass State to take on Louisville. If you are not getting the jist of what I am saying it’s pretty simple, each week it seems that the challenge is always a bit harder for the Heels. Add to all of this the fact that what was supposed to be “nothing” is keeping running back Giovani Bernard out for his second game in a row.
But from the looks of it the star tailback, who did not even make the trip, might not be the only skilled position player not dressing up today as Carolina and Louisville face off at 3:30 p.m. EST in Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Senior wide receiver Jheranie Boyd, one of the few players at that position with any true experience, also did not travel with the team for this game, which will be the seventh ever between the two program, the series tied at 3 a piece. Having check on the weather channel the weather seems to be perfect for football, a far cry from last week’s down pours in Winston-Salem, but with the injuries piling up and the games getting harder this could be a true up hill battle for this squad whether it is raining or not. One truly has to wonder how many injuries away is this team from this campaign being a debacle.
While the loss of Bernard is a tough pill to swallow, since of what he did last season, his replacements against Wake Forest, A.J. Blue and Romar Morris, did just fine all considered. On the other hand when you talk about who is going to step in for Boyd you are talking about players that have very little time on the field. The senior wide out becomes the second major player at that position to be out joining T.J. Floyd, who hurt is foot in the pre season and there is no time table on when he will be back with the squad. In the spread offense that coach Fedora wants to play not having experienced players at the skilled positions is going to be a big obstacle to overcome. Look for senior Erik Highsmith to be targeted plenty in this game as he is becoming junior QB Bryn Renner’s favorite target in the first part of the season.
Here are my keys to the game…
- Burn the Bridges! Yes, it’s a spin on words as Louisville’s quarterback who is named Teddy Bridgewater. But if the Tar Heels want to stay in this game they are going to have to find a way to keep the sophomore gunslinger from picking them apart in the secondary. If they can get pressure and the back four can do a decent job then Carolina has a chance in this road game. If not, this might be a long, long Saturday for coach Fedora and his squad on the defensive side.
- Next man forward. In other words who is going to be the guy that gives the effort to replace both Giovani Bernard in the back field and Jheranie Boyd in the receiving core? It is great what both Blue and Morris did good in their first fill in job for Bernard, but which one is going to step it up and become the go to player from here on out? And of all the young wide outs, Brenner hit completed passes to five freshmen in the first game against Elon and then targeted eight team mates last week versus Wake, which one is going to show himself as the one that should be out there when the likes of Boyd aren’t able to be on the field?
- No TO! I know that this is something that is always a concern, but when facing a Top 25 opponent on the road it is very clear that giving the ball away can not happen. Brenner must show a lot of leadership in this game, make the right calls and passes to keep the sticks moving and the L’ville offense off the field. If the UNC offense can mix up the pass and run game well enough to keep their opponent guessing then they might have a chance, but 3rd and long is going to put the Heels in bad situations and can lead to turnovers, something that they just can ill afford this away game.
- The D Line. We know that the offensive line for Carolina is an asset this season, the defensive line needs to become one as well. If they can stop the run like they did against Wake, holding them Demon Deacons to less than two yards per carry, as well as put pressure on Bridgewater without the need of line backers, The Cardinals might be put into a position they do not want to be in.
In the end this is going to be a good game if the Tar Heels, a 3.5 points underdog, can contain Bridgewater. I see coach Fedora being able to manuever his North Carolina football team, looking to bounce back from a loss to Wake Forest, to a victory on the road against a Top 25 opponent. And no, for those that think this is a homer pick, it’s not! It won’t be an easy one and this game is going to be a game for the whole sixty minutes, with the one team making the fewest mistakes winning it. In the end UNC will be that team and will squeak by with a 28 to 24 win in a fourth quarter drive led by Brenner, showing all of college football that he can be the leader of the new spread offense in Chapel Hill. On the other hand if this is a loss for UNC I would not be surprised, but I will be surprised if I do not see a great effort by all that get on the field.
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