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100 Days to Kickoff: Opponent Previews - UNC

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Return of the Mack

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at North Carolina Nell Redmond-USA TODAY Sports

After making four consecutive bowl games and winning the Coastal in 2015, Larry Fedora was not able to build any consistency and crashed to back to back 9 loss seasons, thus losing his job. In steps Mack Brown, who in his first stint in Chapel Hill went 69-46-1, the tie being a game the Jackets will never forget or forgive. This hire was well received by the Tar Heel faithful, but panned by much of the rest of the country.

Offense

One of the best things Mack Brown was able to do was convince OC Phil Longo to leave Oxford for Chapel Hill. His uptempo, spread em out offense has been putting up incredible numbers since his days at Sam Houston State. There will be lots of motion and lots of those dreaded RPOs we keep hearing about.

The biggest question for the Heels will be who takes the snaps this Fall. Last years starter Nathen Elliott transferred, Chazz Suratt decided to play linebacker, leaving two red-shirt freshman as the only QBs to have taken college snaps left. Jace Ruder threw five passes against the Jackets last season, before getting hurt, and Cade Fortin played in four games. Four star QB Sam Howell, a top 100 rated player from Monroe NC, flipped to the Tarheels from FSU and was an early enrollee in the spring. The battle is still raging going into fall camp, and we might not know who starts till the first snaps against South Carolina.

The strength of the UNC offense will be the running back position. Three talented players return that collectively averaged over 6.1 yards per carry. Junior Michael Carter was the home run hitter last season averaging over 7.1 yards per carry. He was also 3rd on the team with 25 receptions. Look for Longo to ride the running backs early as the Heels break in a new QB.

Top receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams has moved on to the NFL, but eight of the top nine receivers from last season return. Dazz Newsome is the most dynamic of the returning players, he averaged 11.5 yards per catch last season and was a threat running the ball as well, averaging 13.7 yards per carry.

The offensive line struggled last year, but returns 5 players that started at least one game. Charlie Heck is the most experienced player, having started 31 games in his years in Chapel Hill.

Defense

Another year, another Tar Heel defense devastated by injuries. The biggest addition was the the hiring of Army DC Jay Bateman. Bateman was able to build a formidable defense from a chronically undersized group at Army. It will be interesting to see how he adapts from coaching a defense for one of the most methodical offensive team to coaching a defense for what may be one of the most up tempo teams.

Though the Heels lose leading sack master Malik Carney from last years team, there is still some talent returning. Senior DT Jason Strowbridge and and JR DE Toman Fox combined for 8 sacks and 16 tackles for loss. It will be interesting to see where these two players slot into Bateman’s preferred 3-4.

The Heels also lose leading tackler from last season, Cole Holcomb.

The strength of the Carolina defense looks to be in the back end. Starting corner Patrice Rene as well as both starting safeties Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk return, Rene and Dorn are both seniors who have started 33 games each during their time in Chapel Hill.

The Heels’ biggest struggle last season was in stopping the run, if they can become more stout there, they have the talent to wreck havoc on opposing teams passing games.

Special Teams

Carolina’s biggest weapon in special teams is Dazz Newsome’s explosiveness in the punt return game. The Heels are looking to replace both their starting kicker and punter from last season.

Conclusion

I’m more bullish and supportive of the Mack Brown hire than most. He really impressed me with his coordinator hires and if he lets them coach, I think the Heels will be able to climb the Coastal ladder. Brown has also been successful in recruiting, his 2019 class was ranked 32nd nationally and 6th in the ACC and his 2020 class is currently ranked 16th nationally and 4th in the ACC. I think Mack has the chance to right the ship and help to lay the groundwork for the Heels to be competing in the Coastal.

Disclaimer: This article will publish on August 2nd. On August 3rd I will be getting married to a girl with two degrees from UNC, whose parents have degrees from UNC, whose brothers also have degrees from UNC, as well as many of her aunts and uncles. This is truly a family of TarHeels, so I might be a bit biased in my thoughts on the Heels.