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2018 Opponent Preview: North Carolina

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How high can the Heels bounce back?

North Carolina v Georgia Tech

2017 Season Review

What started out as a rebuilding year turned into a year to forget for the Tar Heels. The injury bug bit and bit hard. Not a single offensive lineman started all 12 games, nor did a single linebacker. There were holes a-plenty as the year went on.

The silver lining of this level of injury bug is that a lot of young players will get a chance to play and will gain experience and the team got better as the year wore on. Carolina also held the lead in seven games last year and just seemed to fade late in games when their lack of depth started to show.

Unfortunately, the offseason has not been kind, as 13 players will serve a range of suspensions. These stem from the players selling their team-issued, special edition Jordan shoes. Fortunately for the Heels, most of these players are back-ups and the two starters will be allowed to stagger their respective four-games suspensions.

Who’s Gone?

M.J. StewartStewart played in 49 games in his UNC career and left the school as the all-time leader in pass breakups. The 2-time all-ACC performer was a sexond round pick of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the most recent NFL draft. His senior leadership and playmaking ability in the secondary will be missed by a Tar Heel defense that is looking to improve its efficiency.

Donnie MilesMiles played in 45 games before being lost for the season against Notre Dame in 2017. A stalwart at safety, the Tar Heels will be looking for a replacement for his leadership.

It’s tough to look at who the Tar Heels lost off last years team, given the amount of injuries to seniors and players who are no longer on the team. This injury bug caused a lot of younger players to gain a lot of experience and mitigates the loss of those older players.

Who’s Back?

Anthony Ratliff-Williams - Ratliff-Williams arrived at UNC as one of the top rated QBs in the country. He has seamlessly made the transition to WR. A third-team All-ACC selection last season, Ratliff-Williams will be looked at to be the main weapon for the Tar Heel offense this season. He scored six touchdowns through the air last season and was 3-of-4 passing with two touchdowns as well. He was also named first-team All-ACC as a return specialist and will be one of the most dangerous return men in the conference again this fall after taking back two kickoffs for touchdowns in 2017.

Jordon Brown/Michael Carter – This will be the two headed monster at running back for the Heels. Brown averaged 4.4 yards per carry and scored four touchdowns, while Carter one upped him with a 5.8-yard average and eight touchdowns in 2017. These two will carry the load for the Carolina offense as they try to help the QB settle in.

Malik Carney – This defensive terror will have to wait a while before announcing himself to the ACC. He is one of the 13 players who is suspended and will miss the first four games of the season. He will be the anchor for what the Tar Heels hope will be a stouter front seven. Carney had 12 tackles for a loss and 5.5 sacks last season.

Conclusion

UNC has talent and experience returning at the skill positions on offense. The biggest questions will be at QB, which has been decided with Chazz Suratt serving a four-game suspension and Nathan Elliot being named the opening day starter and can some of the younger players that gained experience on the offensive line continue to grow into solid contributes.

Much like the Yellow Jackets, UNC lives and dies by the explosiveness of it’s offense. The pieces are there to have a chance of getting back to the up-tempo high scoring offense that Tar Heel fans are used to.

The defense is hit a bit harder by the suspensions and players leaving, including two starting defensive ends both serving four-game suspensions. The Tar Heel defense has traditionally struggled against the run but there is hope, going in to Year 2 of John Papuchis as DC will help the defense better understand the system and avoid the injury big that devastated the depth charts.

This is a tough game to predict for the Yellow Jackets. We must travel to Chapel Hill, on Homecoming, later in the season after the Heels have had time to weather the suspensions and develop some continuity and identity on both sides of the ball. The Jackets haven’t won in Chapel Hill since the 68-50, defense optional, game in 2012. This looks to be a game that will be high scoring with a lot of offensive firepower, I think the Jackets can pull it out 35-31.

Disclaimer: My lovely editor/girlfriend is a UNC grad, blinks twice, please send help.