For most of the fanbase of the football program this season’s start was disappointing to say the least. And who could say differently as the Tar Heels began 1 and 5 in the 2013 campaign. But for the program itself that frustration did not start just this season. All of 2012 the team members had to play knowing there would be no post season for them, and were unable to claim the division they had earned.
So now, as the team has righted the ship, being 5 and 5 heading into the last two games, the first one tomorrow against Old Dominion (8-3), in the friendly confine of Kenan Stadium, kick off being at 12:00 p.m. EST, the word “redemption” has to be on everyone’s mind. But so do the words focus and determined.
“Going to a bowl game would finally just put everything behind us, with the NCAA investigation and everything,” said senior defensive end Kareem Martin, “We can finally turn over a new leaf by going to a bowl game.”
In a way, winning this game, becoming bowl eligible might be the beginning of the end of a chapter no one really wants to think about at North Carolina. But to do so they will have to deal with a team that is not going to be a pushover as it transitions from the FCS to Conference USA, however is playing as an Independent this season. On the other hand, for UNC no team has been an easy win, even as the squad has improved with each game in the last month and a half.
Both teams come into this game riding a four game winning streak, interesting enough, the last time the Monarchs lost was to Pittsburgh, the team that Carolina beat last week.
Reading around the great internet it sounds like ODU’s offense is something like what the Heels faced in their fourth game of the year, the major upset at the hands of East Carolina, a team the Monarchs lost to 52-38 to. And that alone should have the defense on its toes.
Even worst, the Monarchs are not eligible for the post season this season, and their head coach told the media that this being the team’s last game of the season “they would hold nothing back”.
That means that for Martin and the rest of the defensive unit, the first player to focus on is quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who won the Walter Payton Award (Top FCS offensive player) last season. As a whole the Heels will be looking at a pass first-second and third, fast paced offense made to spread the D as much as possible and to release the pigskin before any pressure comes close.
“It’s going to be very, very critical that we are able to get some pressure on the quarterback and try to harass him and try to get him to make some throws early, and then we are going to have to hold up in the back end, too,” UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. “We don’t want to cover those guys for a long time, because if he gets a set back there, he’s going to pick you apart.”
The head man of the Heels also spoke about the opponent’s gunslinger…
“I tell you what, he is a very talented young man,” Fedora said. “He can extend plays, he’s got a great arm, he knows where to go with the ball.”
Look for senior safety Tre Boston, senior defensive back Jabari Price and the rest of the back four to be working a lot tomorrow as pass after pass comes their way. Being able to shut down the oppositing early on will be key in this one.
On the offensive side sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams will look for junior tight end Eric Ebron, who is one catch from 50 this year and 100 for his college career, and all the other receivers for its aerial attack. Another player to watch will be sophomore wide out Quinshad Davis, 102 passes in his first two seasons at UNC, who has a nack for finding the end zone.
The ground and pound will feature Williams and a lot of backs by committee, with the one having the hot hand being the one that will carry the ball the most. Williams leads the team in rushing, but look for freshman T.J. Logan to be in the game quickly and to make something happen during the early part of the game.
Against an offense that will have the Heels’ D working hard the one thing that Williams & Co., or should I say Williams & the Youngens, as this season 28 of the 36 scores have been by the hands of either freshmen or sophomores, need to do is not have three and out sequence to give the defensive unit good breathers. Scoring points on long drives would be the best to make that happen. Changing of the field would also work well, as to avoid the happenings that occured in Pittsburgh in the second half.
Just like many times this season, for the young players on this squad the future is now, and with two games left, this is a must win for the Heels. All have to step up in order for this to happen.
A lot of people have made the comparisons between the ODU and the ECU offenses, it is going to take a good game from all facets of the team, for all four quarters, in order to prove those comments wrong. The team, especially on defense, can ill afford to take plays off, they can not be stagnant on offense, and on neither side of the ball can they give up yardage with dumb penalties. The other thing is that Carolina has to be focused on the opponent on the field tomorrow, and not worry about the next one, in-state Duke, who is having a surprising season, and is headed to their second bowl game in a row.
The Vegas insiders have North Carolina as a 17 points favorite, which is quite a large spread. On the other hand, the team has improved a lot since they played ECU. I am not sure if UNC will be able to beat the spread, but for sure they will beat ODU, with the final being 38 to 24.