CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – It’s been 21 months since North Carolina lost a football game at Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels look to extend their seven-game winning home streak in their 2016 opener against FCS opponent James Madison on Saturday.
UNC’s undefeated record at Kenan Stadium in 2015 was its first unblemished slate since 1996, and it boosted Larry Fedora’s home record at UNC to 21-6.
Saturday marks the latest the Tar Heels (1-1) have opened their home schedule since 2010. After a pair of matchups with Power 5 conference opponents to start the season, UNC welcomes its first of two FCS opponents to Kenan Stadium when the 8th-ranked Dukes bring their high-powered offense to town.
James Madison (2-0) is averaging 68 points and 405 rushing yards per game after dismantling fellow FCS members Morehead State (80-7) and Central Connecticut State (56-21).
“They scored 136 points in two games,” Fedora said this week. “They've rushed for over 800 yards. They've returned three punts for touchdowns. I mean, this is a really good football team that we're going to have to bring our ‘A’ game to hang in there.”
Fedora has tried to convince the public all week long that his program approaches all teams the same, whether its FBS, FCS or high school level of competition. The stats back up his words, as his teams have averaged a 42.5-point margin of victory against FCS opponents in his eight years as a college head coach.
James Madison’s 6.3 yards-per-carry average, which has been accumulated equally between a quartet of tailbacks, has given the Dukes hope that their strength matches up with UNC’s most notable weakness: run defense. The Tar Heels are allowing 235.5 rushing yards per game, good for 111th nationally, although Georgia’s Nick Chubb and a busted play against Illinois are the primary culprits.
“We always have the mindset as a defense to not ever put it on the offense,” middle linebacker Andre Smith said. “We don’t ever want the offense to just go out there and try to outscore everyone. As a defense, we don’t want them to score any. They may be used to putting up 80 or however much a game, but that’s not going to happen.”
The Tar Heels elevated their play in Week 2 on both sides of the ball, holding Illinois to 3.4 yards per play after its opening scoring drive while scoring 48 points with a balanced offensive attack behind junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky (43-of-64, 421 passing yards, 2 TD; 49 rushing yards, 3 TD). UNC ranks 40th nationally in yards per play (6.4) despite playing two P5 opponents to open the season.
Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan, the Tar Heels’ tailback tandem, have rushed for 294 yards and three touchdowns on a 7.4 yards-per-rush clip in two games. Logan also leads the ACC and ranks fifth nationally in all-purpose yards per game (207.0).
"We have to make UNC play," JMU head coach Mike Houston said. "We cannot give them cheap touchdowns, we cannot turn the ball over and we cannot have breakdowns that get them off the hook when we're on defense. We have to be sound and solid in all three phases."
UNC scored 40 or more points in six of its seven wins at Kenan Stadium in 2015, including topping the 50-point threshold four times.