The North Carolina (4 & 5 ~ 3-3 ACC) football has won three in a row, including the last one against Virginia without the assistance of fifth year senior quarterback Bryn Renner. But tomorrow UNC will face its stiffest opponent of the second half as they take on Pittsburgh (5 & 4 ~ 2-3 ACC) on the road. Kickoff time, as usual, is 12:30 p.m. EST.
There is no doubt that the Tar Heels have improved in the last month, especially on the defensive side of the ball. On the other hand they are facing a Panthers team that has just beaten a ranked Notre Dame squad last weekend and is looking for its sixth victory to be bowl eligible. However the Heels will also be facing a team that a couple of weeks prior lost to Navy. Something will have to give for one of the two programs when they clash tomorrow, the key might just be which Pitt squad shows up, the former or the latter.
Sophomore Marquise Williams will lead the Heels offense, one that has scored 24 of its 32 touchdowns either with a true freshman or a sophomore. Speaking of first year players, two should be mentioned from last week’s victory vs UVa. Freshman wide out Ryan Switzer returned a punt for a score and freshman defensive back Dominique Green had a “pick six” as one of the two interceptions by the Heels in the game.
In some ways it’s great to see that the future is looking good as far as talent goes under head coach Larry Fedora. Unfortunately, the future is now if the 2013 version of this squad wants to make it to a bowl game in this campaign.
On D Carolina will have to once again avoid giving up the long play, the last thing that this team needs is to give up major chunks of yardage to a team that is at home, pumped from defeating a ranked squad and needs the game just as much as UNC does. This means that senior defensive end Kareem Martin must once again lead the front seven to stop the run and to rush the opposing quarterback. While in the back field, Tre Boston and the rest of the backs, have to keep everything in front of them.
With the season on the line all facets of the teaml can ill afford to take plays off or make mental mistakes, including getting penalties after penalties as has happened many a times this year. As I have said numerous times, and will probably say so again, both programs need this win. Which one of them plays the best and the smartest is the one that will likely come out on top tomorrow afternoon. For coach Fedora and his squad there might be some extra motivations as Jessie Palmer twitted this about the Heels…
Jessie Palmer Basically Just Said We Are Not A Good Enough Football Team Guess We Have To Shut Him Up To #Silence The Noise # GoHeels
— Marquise Williams (@1MWilliams2) November 15, 2013
Still on the discussion of freshmen, the Heels D will have to deal with a good one in receiver Tyler Boyd, who has a total of 729 yards and six touchdowns this season. Along with the first year player is another wide out, senior Devin Street, Carolina needs to be careful of, as he too has six touchdowns of his own and averages close to 100 yards per game.
It is going to be a long day for Boston & Company if they can not shut down this pair.
Yes, all of the above is a lot easier to write on a blog like this than to execute on the field. But the reality is that the defensive unit has improved tremendously over the past four or five games. Tightening it down once again is not as a big stretch as it would have been in the first part of the season. The key will just be if the D can tighten down enough to keep Pitt from doing too much damage. The good news is… most everyone would probably be a lot less convinced that UNC could win this game if it was being played five-six weeks ago. Now, this game is winnable!
Still on the youth movement in this post, T.J. Logan will get the nod in the back field. However coach Fedora told the media that the running back who is producing is going to be the one that will get most of the carries. I also believe that Williams will do plenty of running from his QB spot, hopefully this will open up the passing game for the Tar Heels.
“They all get equal reps in practice right now. It boils down to who is making fewer mistakes and who is making more plays,” Coach Fedora says.
While I doubt that against the Panthers the Tar Heels will be able to gain 201 yards on the ground as they did the previous week, they need to gain enough to keep the opposing defense honest. This task will be even harder as the fall weather turns into winter and the cold sets in with each and every play and hit.
If UNC wants to do anything against Pittsburgh it’s going to have to take care of Aaron Donald, a senior defensive tackle who has tallied 9 sacks, made 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and has forced three fumbles this year. If the offensive line can not keep Donald in check it’s going to be a long game, whether the Heels are passing or running.
Hopefully hot routes and screen passes to the outside might just hold back the player that the coaching staff has compared to South Carolina’s Jadeveon Clowney.
Look for the young freshman QB to go to his safety blanket in junior tight end Eric Ebron, who might just have the best game of his season, if not career, now that his team is so close to getting back to a bowl game. In many ways this season might just go as far as the QB to TE connection takes it. And for the last final note on the youth movement of this team, if Ebron is well covered this could be another good game from sophomore wide receiver Quinshad Davis, who has been looking quite well of late.
All in all, this might not be the biggest test for this team this season, but it’s the most important, as a win would almost assure the program a .500 record and a shot at a bowl game. Stop me if you thought that this could have been possible a month ago. It might not be a rivalry game like the one against NC State, might not be a game at the big boy’s table against an SEC team, but it’s a game that is needed and it is going to be quite interesting to see if North Carolina can step up to the challenge, especially on the road, where they haven’t won back to back games in quite some time.
The Vegas lines put this as a pick’em game. I have to believe that North Carolina is going to continue to ride the wave they have built up for themselves, beating Pittsburgh by the final of 27 to 21.