CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina looks to even its 2015 record when it welcomes FCS opponent N.C. A&T to Kenan Stadium for the first time in school history for its home opener on Saturday (6 p.m.).
The Tar Heels (0-1) are in desperate need of a win to snap a three-game losing streak dating back to last year’s regular season finale against N.C. State. UNC played well for stretches in the season-opening 17-13 loss to South Carolina, but ultimately failed to make the necessary plays to pull out the victory.
“That 0-1 is a bad taste in all our mouths, especially how the year ended last year,” sophomore defensive tackle Nazair Jones. “We were so eager to get our first win. Everybody put up a great effort, but now it’s time to actually get the job done on both sides of the ball and get the ‘W.’ It doesn’t matter if we play well if we lose.”
UNC head coach Larry Fedora has spent most of the week urging anyone who would listen to file the South Carolina loss away and focus instead on the games to come, starting first with the Aggies.
“Win or lose, that game wasn’t going to define who we were because it really didn’t have anything to do with the goals that we have for this season,” Fedora said. “It was about gaining experience. Hopefully, you’d love to win the football game. There’s no doubt about it and we’re highly disappointed that we didn’t win it, but again, we’ve got to move on. We’ve got to learn from the mistakes we made and become a better football team.”
N.C. A&T will attempt to avoid becoming yet another FCS program blown out by Fedora’s Tar Heels. UNC has averaged 66.3 points per game in three games against FCS teams during the Fedora era with an average margin of victory of 50 points.
The Aggies (1-0) are coming off a 9-3 season and a share of the MEAC title behind a top-25 defense and the running of junior tailback Tarik Cohen. N.C. A&T dismantled Division II Shaw, 61-7, in its season opener last weekend.
Aggies head coach Rod Broadway, who both played and coached at UNC, understands the task ahead for his squad on Saturday.
“There’s more separation between us and Carolina,” Broadway said, “than there is between us and Shaw… It’s going to be a tough matchup on both sides of the ball because we’re overmatched. That’s just me being frank and honest. But I’m anxious to see how we compete against those guys. I’ll say this: we have a team that likes to be challenged. And this is as big a challenge as we’ll ever have this season.”
The Tar Heels have plenty to prove, regardless of how lopsided the scoreboard may be when the game concludes. Fifth-year quarterback Marquise Williams played arguably the worst game of his career with three interceptions inside the 25-yard-line against the Gamecocks, including a pair in the end zone. Running back Elijah Hood was superb in rushing for 138 yards, yet carried the ball 12 times and only once during UNC’s final 13-play drive that ended with a turnover.
Gene Chizik’s defense also showed promise in holding South Carolina to 17 points, although the Gamecocks were able to run the ball seemingly at will – 254 rushing yards on 47 carries – despite not possessing much of a passing game.
“A lot will be said about how we approach this team,” Fedora said. “This team can beat us just like any other team can beat us, so it’s all about our attitude and our mindset, the way we approach a football game. It should be no different than the way we approached the last one. That’s what we’re striving for, consistency.
“The next game is the most important game, and that’s all there is.”