Heels prep for ‘Bludgeon Football'

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – To use baseball terminology as a reference point, North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant and wide receiver Jawarski Pollock have become "battery mates." The two worked countless hours by themselves this past summer, and they have developed a type of radar between them.

Click here for Tuesday's quotes from John Bunting.

Now, as evidenced by their frequent on-the-field hookups, the game has become as simple as pitch and catch for the two friends.

"When we worked together in the offseason, we were able to develop a chemistry between each other," Pollock said. "He knows where I'm going to be, and sometimes I know where he wants me to be."

During Tuesday's post-practice interviews, Durant walked over to Pollock and slapped him on the knee as a demonstration of their close relationship and the appreciation Durant has for his top receiving option.

Pollock leads the Atlantic Coast Conference with nine receptions per game and is ranked third with 83 yards per contest. That says a lot, considering the wealth of depth the Tar Heels have at the position this year. Pollock is also among the league's top 10 in all-purpose yards.

"I'm playing the best football of my career right now," Pollock said.

  • For the third time in as many games, the Tar Heels will face an opponent with a run-first offensive mentality. But Carolina could catch a break this week at the expense of an ankle injury to Wisconsin's leading rusher Anthony Davis.

    In his first three games, which includes just a first quarter appearance in last Saturday's loss to UNLV, Davis has averaged 141.7 rushing yards per game.

    "[Davis] is still in the boot," UW head coach Barry Alvarez said. "That is a day-to-day thing. He has improved, I do know that, but I am not going to make any speculation about him. I am sure Dwayne will carry the ball and I'm sure Booker will play."

    However, backup tailback Dwayne Smith relieved Davis last week and ran for 92 yards – the third-highest total in his career. Redshirt freshman Booker Stanley will serve as the backup to Smith Saturday, if Davis cannot go.

    "This is bludgeon football now," UNC head coach John Bunting said. "They are about as good as they get at running the football and that is their mentality. We are going to have to be very, very good at reacting off blocks, about making tackles, making sure the runner doesn't fall forward for extra yards, make open field tackles and try to prevent explosive plays when they do run the ball."

  • On the flip side of the previous note, the Tar Heels rank last in the ACC in nearly every defensive statistical category – total defense (535.5 yards allowed per game), rushing defense (233.0 yards allowed per game), scoring defense (43.0 points allowed per game); and second to last in passing defense (302.5 yards allowed per game).

    But Bunting is not crunching numbers, at least not this early in the season. He quoted Twain in describing his opinion of statistics.

    "There are three types of lies – ‘lies, damned lies and statistics,'" Bunting said.

    Still, improving the defensive output is the major focus this week in preparation for the Badgers.

    "It's just little things here and there that is messing us up," defensive lineman Isaac Mooring said. "We've had good game plans, but we are young and we will get better with more practice and more focus. We can fix the missed tackles and the missed assignments."

  • Offensively, the Tar Heels reside at the other end of the spectrum. There is no question they can put up points in bunches behind a vastly improved offensive line, the passing of Durant, and his talented receiving corps and a developing rushing attack.

    UNC is ranked third in the ACC in total offense and second in passing offense (24th nationally).

    "It's tough, because we know we give our all on every play, and to come away with the loss is very tough for us to swallow," Pollock said. "We don't feel any pressure at all, because we know we can put up points with anyone. We know our defense can stop someone when its time to stop them."

    However, Wisconsin doesn't share the same polarity between its offense and defense. So while the Badgers will hope to feast on the Carolina's struggling defense, the Tar Heels' offense will likely not be afforded the same courtesy.

    In UW's 23-5 loss to UNLV, the Rebels' longest drive was just 30 yards. In the Badgers' season opener, West Virginia's last five possessions ended in four punts and a turnover on downs. They are giving up 201 yards per game through the air and 139 yards per game on the ground.

    "They played well [last week], but their offense put them in some bad situations," Durant said. "Their defense is one of the best we will see this season, especially up front. Those guys in the Big Ten are used to going against the run all year long."

    Considering UNC has played a much tougher schedule to this point, just a little improvement on the defensive side of the ball could be enough to facilitate a win this Saturday. And considering Wisconsin's loss to unranked UNLV, it could no longer be considered a monumental upset.

    "I was thinking about that when we were getting ready to play Florida State," Mooring said. "I saw one of the younger players looking around the stadium and I noticed he was kind of big-eyed. I told him once you get out there on the field the fans disappear and it's just you and the guys lined up in front of you and that's what I emphasize to the young guys."

  • It appears that true freshman Ronnie McGill has settled into a two-tailback rotation with senior Willie Parker. Each is averaging about 35 yards per game, with Jacque Lewis and Chad Scott working as the third down and specialty options.

    McGill, who sat out a good deal of training camp with an undisclosed illness, has recovered to 100 percent and is simply thrilled to be feeling good and contributing to the offense so early in his career.

    "I just was able to come out with my mind straight and my legs and my body felt like it was in tip-top condition," McGill said. "I was feeling like I was on top of the world.

    "I thought we [freshmen] would get some playing time, but I didn't think it would come this early and I didn't think we would make the impact. I just thought it would eventually come around to us getting a little bit of playing time."

  • Senior All-ACC tight end candidate Bobby Blizzard returned to school this week for the first time since coming down with a viral infection prior to the game with Syracuse. It is not known if he will be in the lineup on Saturday, but according to Bunting, that is not the his emphasis concerning Blizzard at this point.

    "I told his mom, all I care about right now is to see Bobby Blizzard smile," Bunting said. "I do not think about Bobby playing football right now; all I care about is him getting well. I think he is starting to get well and when he does, we'll start to talk about football."

  • The Tar Heels are 11-6-0 against teams in the Big Ten. The last time they played a Big Ten opponent was in 1999, when UNC beat Indiana 42-30 in Bloomington. The last time Carolina played a Big Ten team ranked in the Top 25 was in 1979, when UNC beat No. 14 Michigan 17-15 in the Gator Bowl.

  • Assistant coaches Hal Hunter (Indiana), Andre' Powell (Indiana), Brad Lawing (Michigan State), Gary Tranquill (Ohio State, Michigan State) and James Webster (Northwestern) have all coached in the Big Ten. Powell and Hunter both played in the Big Ten.

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