There are new expectations in Chapel Hill. After the Tar Heels grabbed their first win over a ranked opponent, they find themselves as a top-5 team. Mack Brown has been honest about his team, saying that he feels the rankings are ahead of where the team is right now. He also thinks his players have that potential to get there, but strides need to be made.
UNC (3-0) will be traveling for the second time this season. This go-around will have quite a few fans in the stands, with Brown hearing that Florida State (1-3, 0-3 ACC) will be allowing around 19,000 fans in Doak Campbell Stadium for Saturday's 7:30 p.m. kickoff.
While there were a lot of positives to take out of last week’s game against the Hokies, one of the most discussed topics coming out was North Carolina’s defense. The Tar Heels gave up 45 points and nearly 500 yards of offense. 260 of those came on the ground for Virginia Tech, and that was a big question mark coming into the game. The Hokies had done an amazing job rushing the ball, and UNC had the least rush yards allowed in the country. That particular battle was won by the Hokies, especially in the second half.
One aspect that can’t be forgotten is that the Tar Heels were missing three starters on defense with Storm Duck, Ja’Qurious Conley, and Ray Vohasek. The coaching staff is hopeful that Conley and Vohasek will be back this weekend, with will most likely offer a lift to the Heels rush defense.
FSU will be without its best skill player on Saturday with WR Tamorrion Terry undergoing knee surgery this week. After a slow start, Terry had his breakout game against Notre Dame. He hauled in nine catches for 146 yards and a touchdown. He will be out for a least the next couple weeks.
After lessons learn in games two and three, UNC is looking for another good defensive performance to add to its tally
All eyes were on Sam Howell coming into the season, but it has been the running back duo of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams that have been the most impressive players for the Tar Heels. Howell has been solid, but his running backs have been sensational. Through three games, the pair have combined for 910 yards from scrimmage and nine touchdowns.
This partnership became even more apparent against the Hokies when UNC ran for 399 yards. That’s including a few kneels to end the game, as well. The offensive line did a phenomenal job paving the way against a weakened defense. Carter had a career high 214 yards, and Williams topped 100 yards.
While both backs can really do it all, there have been roles developing. Carter is the first option. He starts the game, and there is a reason for that. He’s a senior and has that additional experience. Carter also has good vision and is exceptional in the open field. He’s one of the fastest players on the team and he knows how to use it.
Williams has more power to his game. You want him in on 3rd and 1 or on the goal line. He has a knack for gaining an extra couple yards where you need it. He keeps his feet driving and never gives up on a play. He also isn’t afraid of contact and will lower his pads to earn additional yards and deal some hits to weaker tacklers.
This rushing attack really opens up the offense, and it has a chance to go from good to great. It takes significant pressure off of Howell and allows him to operate on his own time. Opponents have to respect the run game. That leaves receivers with more space and makes play action deadly.
Penalties, Penalties, Penalties.
It’s a broken record at this point, but penalties and basic mistakes have severely hampered the Tar Heels thus far. They had nine penalties in each of their first two games, and they had 10 against Virginia Tech for 87 yards. That opposes the Hokies' four, which was one of a few reasons the visitors were able to come back and make it a game.
It’s still early in the season, and these are aspects of the game that can be fixed. But it needs to be a priority for North Carolina moving forward. Avoidable and self-inflicted mistakes can be the cause of bad loss in a matchup that should otherwise be a walk in the park.