North Carolina will attempt to snap a three-game losing streak and reach the ten win mark for the first time since 2015 when they take on the No. 15 Oregon Ducks in the San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl.
With the recent movement in the transfer portal and Josh Downs' decision to enter the NFL Draft, the Tar Heels will be without their best receiver and multiple key pieces on defense.
Squaring off against the ACC Coastal Division champions will be the Oregon Ducks, led by star quarterback Bo Nix. In 12 games, Nix has thrown for 3,389 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Similar to North Carolina quarterback Drake Maye, Nix is impactful on the ground, rushing for 504 yards and 14 touchdowns this season.
As the Tar Heels face-off against the Ducks over 2,000 miles from Chapel Hill, check out the keys to the game ahead of tonight's matchup.
Battle in the Trenches
Bo Nix is one of the most best quarterbacks in college football, while running back Bucky Irving averages over 200 rushing yards over game.
The Oregon offense is dynamic and part of that stems from the offensive line, which has allowed just four sacks this season, ranking first in all of college football.
Without nosetackle Ray Vohasek and edge defender Desmond Evans, the Tar Heels have and will continue to rely on the likes of Kevin Hester Jr. and five-star freshman Travis Shaw to mitigate the losses along the defensive line.
With the Ducks ranking fourth in the country with 507.8 yards per game, a tall task awaits for the defensive line.
Getting to Nix will be unlikely given the combination of a successful offensive line and a mobile quarterback, but the work of the guys up front will go a long way with helping Oregon become one-dimensional.
Whether it is putting pressure on Nix or shutting down the run game, there is an avenue for success for Gene Chizik and company.
Although the defense has not instilled much confidence to close out the season, they have proven to be much more successful, particularly in the second half, when making teams one-dimensional on offense.
Establish the Run Game
Not only does North Carolina roster four different running backs that can make a difference and produce on the ground, but they're also facing a rush defense that is coming off of their worst performance of the season.
In their 38-34 loss to Oregon State, the Ducks allowed 268 rushing yards and five touchdowns on the ground. After losing linebacker Justin Flowe to the transfer portal, they may be even more susceptible in Wednesday night's matchup.
Oregon averaged over 170 yards allowed on the ground in their three losses, but just 110 in their nine wins.
With the likes of Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton in the backfield and Maye with his dual-threat capability, the ground game should be a focal point for Lonnie Galloway in his first game calling plays for the Tar Heels.
Win the Turnover Battle
Through 12 games, Oregon has been successful at winning the turnover battle, while North Carolina has not.
While the Ducks and their 21 turnovers forced sit at just eight more than the Tar Heels, their turnover margin is a key factor to their success.
Ranking ninth in the country with a plus-10 turnover margin, Oregon has caused mistakes from opposing offenses and created more opportunities for their dynamic offense.
In a game in which the Tar Heels are already 13-point underdogs, there it little room for error for Drake Maye and the offense. Maye has thrown an interception in three consecutive games, which have all been losses.
On the flip side, North Carolina has next to nothing to lose and can attempt to force turnovers by taking risks, bringing new looks, and playing loose football.
Nix, who has thrown six interceptions on the season, can make mistakes and the Tar Heels need to take advantage of any miscues from the Ducks' offense.