Buck Sanders - Welcome to another edition of the IC Staff Chat. We’re going to kick things off with what I think may be the story of the week, which is that thanks to Syracuse, UNC is back in the thick of the Coastal race. Greg might be able to map out the various scenarios, but bottom line, UNC was helped out tremendously by a fruit.
Greg Barnes - Definitely so. Virginia Tech’s favorable schedule was upended at the Carrier Dome. Now the Tar Heels have the easier closing schedule, albeit with three rivalry games of varying degrees.
Dijana Kunovac - And this is huge for them - this was one of their biggest goals of the season and to be back on track for that I think means a lot to this team. Kind of gives them back their confidence I would think.
Greg Barnes - Thursday’s night matchup between VT and Miami will go a long way in determining the Coastal race.
Buck Sanders - Well, aside from saying, “Go Canes!” does anyone think that Dijana’s coaching crush, Mark Richt, can pull this out in Blacksburg? Because I don’t.
Dijana Kunovac - Hey hey HEEEEEYYYY....I will say one thing about this: It has been refreshing and really great to see Richt do so well after he was kicked to the curb by UGA (I am weirdly enjoying the irony of his season vs Kirby's at Georgia)... With that being said, Mark Richt seems to have a history of not being able to win these big games (for whatever reasons) so I don't have TOO much faith for Miami at VT. That's also a tough road game. Blacksburg can get pretty rowdy from my experience.
Greg Barnes - Not if Kaaya doesn’t get healthy real quick. Miami’s game plan was ultra-conservative against UNC on Saturday.
Jason Staples - Miami is way too banged up on both lines to win at VaTech in my opinion.
Greg Barnes - Sorry, Dijana, but Georgia fans are getting what they deserve in replacing a sure thing with a guy that had never been a head coach before. Seriously questionable logic.
Buck Sanders - But, but, but…Richt can’t win the big ones!
Greg Barnes - Some UNC fans said the same thing about Mack Brown while Torbush and Bunting were stockpiling wins left and right.
Dijana Kunovac - Kirby can't seem to win the small ones soooo... (Ok ok I will stop bashing my alma mater now, focus people!).
Mike Ingersoll - I think Miami has a shot. Blacksburg is one of the greatest home field advantages, especially on Thursday nights. But, I don't see Miami dropping three straight. Even if Miami loses, I think Pitt is a daunting task for VT on the road. If Pitt is hitting on all cylinders, they're tough to beat. I feel like Tech is going to split these next two, but not sure how that will be apportioned.
Buck Sanders - I like Pitt at home over VT better than Miami’s odds in Blacksburg. I also think it is a better matchup for Pitt. Circling back to the Tar Heels, isn’t this setting up in the Coastal so that UNC has to beat NC State to win the Coastal? That’s how it looks to me.
Dijana Kunovac - That would be quite the narrative. I don't know what it is about that matchup but it always seems to be a toss up, no matter how much better one team is than the other.
Greg Barnes - I think that’s fair. If VT wins on Thursday, it’s hard to envision the Hokies not finishing at least 6-2 in the Coastal, which means UNC would have to win out. And Saturday’s choke job aside, NCSU has looked better than most thought to start the season.
Buck Sanders - Of course UNC could lose to other teams, they could get upset by Duke, Georgia Tech, or even Virginia, but it seems to me their biggest remaining test awaits them on the Friday after Thanksgiving, and they may have to win that one to win the Coastal.
Greg Barnes - It would also be the biggest win of Dave Doeren’s tenure in Raleigh. Buck brings up a good point, though. People seem to be confused about UNC’s statistical chances of winning out. Just because UNC will be favored in its final five games doesn’t mean that UNC is all the more likely to win out.
Mike Ingersoll - I hate admitting it, but State looks like the real deal this year. I think that's a much more solid team than in recent years. That will be a dog fight, and State is no stranger to messing up a UNC season. I'd say it helps that it's in Chapel Hill, but personal experience has told me that's never mattered much in the State game.
Jason Staples - Agree with Mike that State is going to be no pushover, despite the game being in Chapel Hill. That team can run the football, and that’s still something UNC struggles with. They’ve also got a pretty decent secondary and an excellent DL.
Mike Ingersoll - Absolutely agree, and I base that on more than just the Clemson debacle.
Jason Staples - Any team that’s as good up front on defense as they are and can run the football is a dangerous team. We saw that this week at Clemson. The hurricane also wasn’t the only reason they beat Notre Dame—they dominated the Domers up front.
Buck Sanders - Duke beat ND in South Bend, so let’s not get carried away here.
Jason Staples - Touché.
Buck Sanders - The odd thing is that I think a lot of UNC fans are sleeping on NC State this year. I agree with Mike and Jason, they are not by any means a pushover, rivalry game or not. Okay, let’s address the loss of Mack Hollins. My personal opinion is that if I could choose, I might rather have Caleb Peterson and Jon Heck back.
Greg Barnes - If the option is 2-for-1, sure, I’d agree.
Dijana Kunovac - I don't think I've ever seen such an outpouring on social media over an injured player from current and former players like I did for Mack Hollins. I mean, that HAS to say something.
Buck Sanders - Mack Hollins has a great backstory, is an interesting guy, and was a special weapon in this offense. I mean, as to the backstory, Hollins’ goal is to run for president. If he were eligible, I might vote for him this year.
Jason Staples - I would vote for Hollins over the two major party candidates.
Greg Barnes - I think Mack’s absence will be felt much more significantly if UNC manages to return to the ACC Championship Game. UNC can manage well enough with the upcoming teams on the schedule, but it needs his deep threat capability to stress Clemson’s defense.
Dijana Kunovac - People also need to keep in mind that there's more to leadership than just the numbers you put up.
Jason Staples - Agree with Greg about Hollins’ impact, though I’d also say his impact might be felt against NCSU.
Dijana Kunovac - Can Anthony Ratliff-Williams step up at WR? Saw he was listed as a starter on the depth chart...
Mike Ingersoll - Hopefully Ratliff-Williams or someone will emerge from this as a threat. I think with more guaranteed playing time and less threat of getting pulled, guys tend to play more freely. Hopefully that will be the case with whoever we use in place of Mack, and hopefully that will yield production. Theoretically it should. Practically, we'll see.
Buck Sanders - I don’t think Fedora has another Mack Hollins on the roster, and that he’ll adjust his offense to fit the personnel he has at his disposal. Though Ratliff may suprise.
Mike Ingersoll - We'll see the kind of coaching we have based on how prepared these backups are.
Greg Barnes - Austin Proehl is stepping in for Hollins, so there’s a significant difference in what they bring to the table.
Mike Ingersoll - I think we'll be pleasantly surprised, if Thomas Jackson and J. Smith are any indication.
Greg Barnes - Trubisky mentioned Jordan Cunningham and Anthony Ratliff-Williams as the next men up at WR this week.
Mike Ingersoll - I helped coach Rat in high school, he's a phenomenal athlete with great speed. If he can get his route running down tight, I think he'll be serviceable initially but could progress into a solid down-to-down player. Also, Rat is a monster in the weight room. Hopefully his natural explosiveness lends to production this weekend and moving forward.
Buck Sanders - Greg, I’ve got an interesting Trubisky stat you can use this week. Pretty incredible.
Greg Barnes - Consider my interest piqued, Buck.
Buck Sanders - On third and seven to nine, Trubisky is 13 of 20, all 13 completions went for first downs, and he has a 203.3 passer efficiency rating at that down and distance.
Dijana Kunovac - Greg’s head explodes -
Mike Ingersoll - That's encouraging to say the least, the stat, not Greg's head exploding, the latter would be pretty unfortunate.
Greg Barnes - Yes, he’s been crazy clutch. I compared his 3rd-and-long/4th down passing stats against other Heisman hopefuls after the FSU game and his numbers were significantly better.
Buck Sanders - Anyone have any good stories about Virginia? That is a hateful place to play, just based on covering the game. If the weather is decent, the pressbox windows are open, and UVa fans are sitting at a distance where you can almost touch them. The things they say…NSFW.
Dijana Kunovac - I remember when I first started at IC Greg told me that all the games would sort of run together and I wouldn't be able to remember them all. I remember thinking pssshhh - I'm gonna remember every experience! Nope. It's like every game is one big game.
Buck Sanders - Greg lied to you, D.
Dijana Kunovac - Wouldn't be the first time....
Greg Barnes - Hey now!
Buck Sanders - I don’t exactly remember every detail of the game on the field, but some of the extracurricular stuff sticks in your head.
Greg Barnes - I’ve been tempered in the raw filth that is spewed at certain other schools, so game day at Virginia is more middle of the road for me. Fancy stadium, though, with the columns and what not.
Jason Staples - I’m with Greg. UVa fans were generally fine for me compared to some of the other places I’ve been.
Mike Ingersoll - Nothing outside the general dirtiness of the UVa players for me. My only personal foul in my entire life was against UVa in 2009, one of the things I can point to that cost us the game that year. Sorry guys.
Dijana Kunovac - Very fancy. Very beautiful town. Honestly I think most of my experiences there have been positive?!
Buck Sanders - Dijana stock market watch - crashing.
Dijana Kunovac - And I was on the field, Buck. Trust me - I witnessed all of the filth everywhere.
Jason Staples - And I’m with Dijana—Charlottesville is beautiful.
Mike Ingersoll - The general snooty vibe during recruiting turned me off. That and I thought Al Groh was going to die any minute when we met.
Greg Barnes - I do remember sending my wife to the spa on our anniversary weekend 10 years or so ago so that I could watch the UNC-UVa football game. It ended up being that 7-5 snore between Groh and Bunting.
Jason Staples - Back to the UVa game itself, the thing that is interesting to me is how much they’ve improved since the first week. They’re really starting to buy into Bronco-Ball.
Greg Barnes - UNC is favored by 8.5 points at Virginia, by the way. That’s not a gimme, either.
Mike Ingersoll - Against UVa, even without Mack, I think we'll have success against their secondary. Ras-I Dowling seems like a distant memory. And that's only based on a cursory inspection of that secondary, I haven't delved into any game film or anything yet on them.
Jason Staples - Yeah, UVa’s one really good player in the secondary is safety Quin Blanding. That guy is legit, but he can’t be everywhere. And as good as he is, he’s a bigger guy who isn’t going to be able to cover all 53 yards horizontally against Carolina’s spread.
Buck Sanders - Here’s why UNC wins this game in Charlottesville: Despite the improvement of UNC’s run defense, they always have to worry about teams that run the ball well. Virginia isn’t nearly as good at running the ball as the P5 teams UNC has faced.
Jason Staples - But they have definitely been playing faster and more soundly on the defense. They just don’t have the players to be anything better than moderately bad. I do think Carolina probably needs to turn it over a couple times to lose this game just because of the talent edge. But UVa will slow the game down and run it well enough to probably keep it competitive.
Greg Barnes - Jason’s spot on. Virginia’s ceiling is incredibly low due to the talent drain in recent years.
Buck Sanders - So UNC doesn’t have a pick this year. UVa's QB has thrown at least one pick in every game this year. Which streak ends on Saturday?
Dijana Kunovac - UNC is getting that pick.
Jason Staples - I think Carolina gets a pick this week.
Dijana Kunovac - It's not a matter of IF, it's a matter of when for that UNC secondary....
Mike Ingersoll - Yeah, we defended a lot more passes last week than I expected, which was an area of deficiency for our secondary. Hopefully that's a sign of better coverage and not just Kaaya being banged up.
Jason Staples - Carolina should be able to get some pressure on the QB given this UVa offensive line, and that’s really the key to creating those INTs.
Mike Ingersoll - Bingo
Jason Staples - The increase in passes defensed against UM was more of an indictment of how banged up/bad Miami’s offensive line was. They were able to get pressure on Kaaya, which facilitated more passes defensed as a result.
Greg Barnes - Don’t forget that UNC will start its third-team MLB on Saturday, so those TE pass plays over the middle will be critical to defend.
Jason Staples - They’d be critical even if the first teamer was in there based on the first half of the year.
Mike Ingersoll - Been a real area of concern this year...LB coverage. And the steady improvement we saw last year until the last two games has begun, just lagging a little behind last season's pace. But Jason's right, they're slightly below "bend don't break" status...more like bend and break only a little bit but less each week.
Buck Sanders - Okay, let’s wrap this up. Anyone bold enough to make a prediction, have at it.
Jason Staples - I still need to do a little more study before predicting anything in detail. But I have seen enough of UVa to think Carolina should win the game.
Greg Barnes - I’ll play, since I’ve been so good with predictions this season. Heels 35-17.
Jason Staples - Wouldn’t be surprised if its higher-scoring than that, Greg. On both sides.
Dijana Kunovac - I know better than to doubt Jason AND Greg.
Mike Ingersoll - I think UNC wins, Tech drops one of two in the coming weeks, and we control our own destiny.
Buck Sanders - We’ll end on those predictions. That’s going to do it for this edition of IC Staff Chat. Talk to you folks next week.
Tommy Ashley - Co-host of the Inside Carolina podcast and contributor since 1998.
Greg Barnes - Inside Carolina's highly esteemed beat writer since 2007.
Mike Ingersoll - Former UNC offensive lineman ('07-10), current UNC law student and Inside Carolina analyst.
Dijana Kunovac - Video production coordinator at Inside Carolina from 2011-15, now back on part-time basis.
Buck Sanders - Daily football columnist and Inside Carolina's president since 2000.
Jason Staples - Former FSU WR, now QB coach with a PhD from UNC and Inside Carolina's Xs and Os analyst since 2013.