Tar Heels meet instate FCS Aggies in home opener
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) North Carolina has spent enough time thinking about all the things that went wrong in the opener. The Tar Heels need to show they've moved forward, starting Saturday against North Carolina A&T.
The Tar Heels' home opener comes nine days after the 17-13 loss to South Carolina in Charlotte, a game that saw them roll to 440 yards and show defensive improvement after last year's struggles. But they had plenty of mistakes - most notably with three interceptions thrown by senior quarterback Marquise Williams - and faced questions about the lack of work for top tailback Elijah Hood.
The game against the Aggies, a Championship Subdivision team, might present the opportunity to fix several issues.
''They want to get back out and play,'' UNC coach Larry Fedora said. ''That's what they want to do.''
The first issue for UNC (0-1) is to get Williams back on target. His run-pass ability makes him a tough matchup for defenses, especially with the Tar Heels' no-huddle tempo. But going back to last season, he's had three straight subpar games in which he's thrown a combined two touchdown passes and hasn't reached 250 yards passing.
The Aggies (1-0) rolled to a 61-7 win against Division II Shaw in last week's opener, which included holding the Bears to just 81 yards and five first downs. N.C. A&T is coached by Rod Broadway, a former head coach at North Carolina Central and Grambling who also played and coached at UNC.
''We're overmatched and we know that,'' Broadway said, ''but that doesn't keep us from going in and fighting our rears off and hopefully playing really well and make some progress this week.''
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's North Carolina A&T-UNC game:
DEFENSIVE IMPROVEMENT: First-year defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said he was pleased with the way the overhauled defense performed after last year's struggles. ''For a first game, there were signs of them playing more physical, playing more confident,'' Chizik said. ''Yes, we're not there, but it is a good start. That's what I told them.''
HOOD'S WORKLOAD: Starting tailback Elijah Hood looked as good as advertised in the opener by running for 138 yards, but he got just 12 carries and none coming inside the red zone. Worse, he wasn't on the field for the Tar Heels' last drive inside the 10. Hood doesn't know if he'll get more work Saturday. ''I have no clue,'' Hood said. ''I mean, the plays we run, it usually depends on the looks that the defense gives.''
FIELD GOALS: Nick Weiler performed well for UNC in the opener, hitting field goals of 47 yards and 38 yards. That came a year after the Tar Heels didn't manage a made kick of longer than 30 yards and struggled with accuracy. If Weiler can knock a few more through, that could be a big confidence boost and prove the opener was more than a one-game thing.
NEW WEAPON: UNC found another target in Bug Howard, who finished with career highs of six catches for 114 yards and a touchdown. His 6-foot-5 frame provides another end-zone threat going forward.
AGGIES' SCORING THREAT: The Aggies scored touchdowns on rushes (three), passes (three), a kickoff return and an interception return against Shaw. North Carolina A&T's best bet for a score this week might be receiver Denzel Keyes, who had six catches for 119 yards and two scores. ''He's a 6-4, 6-5 guy that you throw the ball up to him, he's going to outjump most people and he's got enough fight in him to take it from most people,'' Broadway said.
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