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2018 Opponent Q&A: UNC

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A chat with Tar Heel Blog

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

The Q&A returns this week with a preview of a struggling Tar Heel team by Jake Lawrence of TarHeelBlog. Is he feeling positive about the Heels this weekend or in general? No. But does he have excellent recommendations of places to go in Chapel Hill if you’re attending the game? Yes. And that’s what’s important here.

1) First off, what in the world has happened to UNC the last couple years? They’ve been in most of the games they’ve lost this year, but 1 win at this point in the season is pretty rough. Is it one single thing you can point at or a myriad of misfortune?

There are two definitive answers.

First, injuries last year decimated a team that was already in rebuilding mode. Approximately 25% of the team was lost early in the 2017 season to season/career ending injuries. A year after losing five offensive players to the NFL, it was too much to overcome. That trend has slightly continued this year, with injuries to the defensive line and secondary. The Heels have a good-to-very-good first string, but they are too young to make up for multiple personnel losses.

The second problem has been an inability to recruit a viable P5 quarterback since Mitch Trubisky was at UNC. He left a year earlier than expected, which compounded last year’s injury problems. 2018 would have been the original “rebuilding year”. Instead the team can’t have nice things.

2) Does Larry Fedora retain his job after this year? If not, who are the coaches highest on your list to replace him?

Probably. Quite simply, the buy-out is massive (approximately $12-14 million) and UNC has a history of holding on a little too long to their football coaches because they’re “good guys”.

Truthfully, I’ve been a big defender/supporter of Fedora and believed that next season should be the referendum on his tenure. The team will have enough returning talent at every position except QB (and maybe LB) to compete for the Coastal. The 2018 recruiting class was his highest ranked class since he’s been at UNC. Freshman QB Cade Fortin was impressive against VT before he exited with a knee injury. There are reasons to keep him, with a few mandated staff changes.

However, the negatives are quickly adding up. The problems we saw in 2012-2014 returned in late 2016 and have remained. Penalties, lack of discipline and transparency, and below-average execution continue to plague the program. A poor recruiting class in 2019 and consistent questionable in-game decisions have the fans restless. There are times that I’ve wondered if the coaching staff can do basic mathematical calculations. I’m not joking.

3) Honestly, I haven’t watched a UNC game this year, but from looking at the numbers, it seems like Elliot is having a decent year at QB... completion % over 60, 2-1 TDs to INTs, 6.5 ypa... so why is the offense struggling so much?

Nathan Elliott cannot consistently and/or accurately throw the ball more than 10 yards in the air against P5 competition. It’s that simple. Most of those yards have been after the catch thanks to the playmaking ability of the skill positions. A mind-numbing amount of screens and swings to the sidelines have inflated his accuracy numbers.

Elliott deserves credit for not throwing an INT since the California game. He is playing to his strengths and is not the direct reason that the Heels have struggled. Elliott has put the Heels in position to win some games. But, without the ability to stretch the field, it requires borderline perfection from the rest of the team. That hasn’t happened.

4) What matchup against Georgia Tech gives you the most concern heading into this game on either side of the ball?

The easy answer is “whoever is carrying the ball on any given play”. The real answer is Tech’s WRs against UNC’s secondary. Your two QBs, Marshall and Oliver, have only completed 46.5% of their 86 attempts, but the receivers and running backs are averaging 17.68 yards per catch. For reference, of the top-10 teams in scoring offense in the country, only Alabama averages more yards per reception.

Defensive backs K.J Sails and Myles Wolfolk have missed the past few games, and Virginia Tech, Syracuse, and Virginia exposed the secondary with big plays. Georgia Tech’s ability to play rope-a-dope with the option, only to get behind the safeties on a play-action is what will break the back of the Heels.

5) What matchup do you feel best about?

Senior linebacker Cole Holcomb and defensive end Malik Carney could be in line for a big game. Our linebackers have been a source of inconsistency, but unless Georgia Tech forces them into pass coverage, they shouldn’t disappoint too much. Holcomb is the team’s leading tackler, and arguably, it’s most consistent player.

Carney has 7.5 TFLs (5.5 sacks) in just four games. He has the ability to get off the edge and disrupt timing in the backfield.

6) For those of us making the drive to Chapel Hill this weekend for the game, what are your recommendations for places to eat and drink before and after the game?

My favorite is Top of the Hill. It’s a brewery and restaurant, but it can get packed on game days. If the weather is nice and you get an outside table, you can overlook all of Franklin St. If you want postgame drinks, head to the Crunkleton. A little more upscale than most college bars, but if you can afford to travel, you probably aren’t on a college student’s budget.

Looking for quick and easy? Merritt’s Grill or Al’s Burger Shack. Sandwiches and burgers are their specialty.

7) And finally, how do you see this game going? Who wins and why?

UNC will have an impressive first quarter and then abandon everything that was working. Georgia Tech will dominate time of possession, squeeze the life out of the game, and UNC will respond with multiple 3-and-outs that last between 45 and 90 seconds.

A back-breaking 65-yard TD pass against an exhausted and depleted defense will put UNC in a three score deficit at the beginning of the 4th quarter.

Why? Because that’s what this team has become over the past two seasons, and there have been no signs of that changing.

Y’all be sure to swing by Tar Heel Blog and say hello and check out my answers to his questions when they get posted... and maybe check on Jake while you’re there.

Kick is at 12:15 from Chapel Hill. Go Jackets!