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UNC-WFU Preview: Deacs Strong on D

UNC welcomes Wake Forest for a 7pm kickoff on Saturday at Kenan Stadium (RSN).

Series Record: North Carolina leads, 68-35-2

Last Five Games: Wake Forest leads, 3-2

Getting To Know Wake Forest
The Demon Deacons enter Saturday’s game at 3-3 (1-2) after defeating Boston College this past weekend by a score of 3-0. This is Wake Forest’s best start since 2013, when that team also started the season 3-3. The win also marked the Demon Deacons’ first ACC road victory since 2012.

Wake Forest has shown signs of improvement over a season ago. Head coach Dave Clawson’s team hung around with a ranked Florida State for four quarters, but the Demon Deacons have mustered just 36 combined points in conference play. This is an unbalanced team that pairs a strong defense with a struggling offense.

The Wake Forest offense has improved from last year, but still resides in the ACC’s cellar in scoring offense (19.7). The Demon Deacons average 369 yards per game, good for 71st in the nation in total offense. That’s a significant jump from the 216 yards and 14.8 points per game from the worst offense in the country last year.

The Demon Deacons are still in the midst of a competition for the starting quarterback position. True freshman Kendall Hinton and sophomore John Wolford have split attempts fairly evenly, with Hinton taking 25 more snaps than his counterpart. Neither has provided a strong case to be tabbed the team’s best passer, but Hinton has created separation with his strong work on the ground, leading the team in rushing yards (218) and touchdowns (4). Both quarterbacks are prone to turnovers, combining for nine interceptions on the season. Given North Carolina’s secondary play thus far, takeaways could be on the agenda Saturday night.

Of course, it’s difficult to expect quarterbacks to flourish behind an inexperienced offensive line. The Demon Deacons are starting three redshirt freshmen in the trenches, although the unit held its own against one of the best defenses in the country in Boston College, allowing just one sack and one hurry.

The Demon Deacons do have various weapons in the receiving corps, with four different wide receivers passing the 200-yard mark this year. Graduate senior K.J. Brent leads the team with 342 yards on 25 catches, with redshirt freshman Cortez Lewis following suit with 30 catches for 322 yards.

The running backs have struggled so far this season, due in part to the offensive line woes. True freshmen Matt Colburn and Tyler Bell have split carries in the backfield this season. Colburn is second on the team in rushing, tallying 169 yards and a touchdown, while Bell has added 128 yards. Colburn’s touchdown is the lone touchdown by a Wake Forest running back this season.

The Wake Forest defense has been the strength of this team in 2015, although inconsistent at times. The Demon Deacons rank 27th in the nation in total defense, but allowed Syracuse (which ranks 12th in the ACC in total offense) to rack up 370 yards and 30 points in a loss earlier this season. This, paired with the fact that Wake Forest hadn’t forced a single turnover this season until the win over Boston College, makes the defense somewhat of an enigma.

Fifth-year senior linebacker Brandon Chubb is the leader of the unit, with 50 tackles (including five for loss) and a fumble recovery. He’s also second on the team in pass breakups with two, and third on the team with three quarterback hurries. Junior defensive back Brad Watson is another notable name on the defense, tallying 32 tackles, a sack, and a team high seven pass break-ups this season.

And while he’s technically a special teams player, the defense benefits from the punting wizardry of Alex Kinal. Kinal has averaged 44.8 yards per punt this season, with 19 of his 35 attempts downed inside the 20-yard-line.

Notable Quotes
“They’re a very resilient football team. They’ve been in some tough ones. They’re going to fight you all the way to the end, there’s no doubt about it. They’re great on defense. They’re 15th in the country in total defense right now, so they’re going to battle you. Being in a close game for them doesn’t scare them, so they don’t care if they win 3-0 or whatever it is. They’re going to fight you to the end.” – UNC head coach Larry Fedora

"This is a really good football team and we’re going to have to limit explosive plays on defense. We’re going to have to move the ball and score touchdowns in the red zone on offense, and play really well on special teams in terms of tackling their returners. This will be another good challenge for our team.” - Clawson 

 “It’s a night game, and I remember last year the night game was one of the best of all time against Georgia Tech, so I hope we can come out and do the same thing this year.” – UNC QB Marquise Williams on playing under the lights

Matchup To Watch

North Carolina’s Defensive Line vs. Wake Forest’s Offensive Line

Despite the remarkable turnaround that North Carolina’s defense has seen this season, one area of weakness has been the defensive line. UNC ranks 116th nationally in rushing defense (234.0 ypg) and is tied with New Mexico State for the fewest sacks in the country (2). In addition to the lack of a consistent push up front, injuries have hit the interior of the line early in the season. A solid performance against a young and inexperienced Wake Forest offensive line could provide a needed confidence boost heading into the second half of the season.

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