CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina enters Saturday’s primetime matchup with Wake Forest as a heavy favorite with intentions of moving to 2-0 in ACC play for the first time since 1997 and for only the third time since 1984.
The Tar Heels (4-1, 1-0 ACC) are a 17-point favorite over the Demon Deacons (3-3, 1-2 ACC). That is UNC’s largest point spread as a favorite against an ACC opponent since 2012 (-25 vs. Maryland).
UNC is averaging 45 points per game over its four-game winning streak, which includes the largest comeback in school history at Georgia Tech on Oct. 3. The Tar Heels trailed 21-0 only to rally for a 38-31 victory that thrust the program to the front of the ACC Coastal Division race along with Duke (5-1, 2-0 ACC) and Pittsburgh (4-1, 2-0 ACC).
In the win at Georgia Tech, UNC quarterback Marquise Williams (845 passing yards, 6 TD, 4 INT; 346 rushing yards, 4 TD) became the first Tar Heel to lead the team in rushing (148), passing (134) and receiving (37) since the ACC began in 1953.
“I'm really pleased with where he's at right now, and we expect him to continue to do those things,” head coach Larry Fedora said of his starting quarterback. “I don't think it's a surprise to anyone what he's doing because he had flashes of it last year. The big challenge was to be very consistent in the way he plays, and I think he's improved in that area.”
Wake Forest will counter with a defense ranked 15th nationally (296.0) in yards allowed and 20th in points allowed (17.0). The Demon Deacons notched their first shutout since 2006 in last Saturday’s 3-0 win over Boston College.
“They are always in position,” Fedora said. “They bring a lot of heat from a lot of different places. They do it on early downs to get you behind the chains and then they love to come after you on third down and when they do, they really come after you.”
Second-year Wake Forest head coach Dave Clawson has a much-improved offense in 2015, although that’s relative to arguably the worst offensive unit in the country a season ago. The Demon Deacons rank 93rd in total offense (368.7) and 117th in scoring offense (19.7) through six games.
Clawson is 2-1 in ACC games in which his team fails to score a touchdown, yet he’s 0-8 when his team finds the end zone.
“I think good football teams are able to win all types of games,” Clawson said. “The mark of a good football team is you can win a 10-7 or a 14-10 game but you also have the ability to win a 35-31 game.”
Wake Forest has already scored 24 more points in 2015 than it did in all of 2014 (118-94). Freshman quarterback Kendall Hinton leads the Demon Deacons in rushing yards (218, 4 TD) and has thrown for 684 passing yards to go along with two touchdowns and four interceptions. However, it was sophomore quarterback John Wolford (821 passing yards, 4 TD, 5 INT) that started against the Eagles last week.
“They stretch you in a lot of different ways, just in terms of the variety of formations, some personnel groupings and things of that nature,” UNC defensive coordinator Gene Chizik said. “And then they have two different quarterbacks that you have to prepare for. There’s a little bit of difference between the two. They tend to do one set of ideas with one, and another set of ideas with the other.”
North Carolina ranks 25th in scoring defense (18.0) and 43rd in total defense (357.2), although the Demon Deacons will face a Tar Heel unit missing key defenders due to injuries and suspensions.
UNC announced earlier this week that freshman reserve defensive tackle Aaron Crawford would miss the rest of the season after having foot surgery. Starting defensive tackle Nazair Jones (17 tkl, TFL) will also be sidelined with a lower leg injury and and backup defensive tackle Tyler Powell (10 tkl) is listed as doubtful.
The secondary took a hit on Thursday when the school announced that starting cornerback M.J. Stewart (20 tkl, team-high 3 INT) and backup cornerback Mike Hughes (3 tkl) were indefinitely suspended stemming from an incident on Oct. 4. Both players were charged with misdemeanor assault on Thursday.
A win on Saturday would move UNC to 5-1 on the season. The last time the Tar Heels started a season with five wins in their first six games was 2011.