Just when you thought it was safe to feel good about Carolina football again, the Tar Heels' emotional win over N.C. State is tempered by the loss of three key players to indefinite suspensions.
Sure, the Tar Heels' best performances this season have seemed to come when their backs were against the wall, but the most recent personnel setbacks may be too much to overcome.
"Getting waylaid up at there at UVa was a difficult Monday, our kids bounced back," UNC coach John Bunting said. "After that loss to Louisville – a bitter defeat, the kids bounced back that Monday night."
While the fourth-year UNC skipper may have helped earn himself a fifth year with the win over the Wolfpack, a six-win bowl-eligible season does not seem out of the realm of believability. But in order to accomplish such a feat, one that no one would have bet on before the season started, the Tar Heels will have to find a way to win at least one of their next three. And that challenge begins with the Utes.
"We've got five games left in the regular season here, and my seniors have a goal to play in an extra game," Bunting said. "That's going to be difficult, but at the same time, it doesn't retard their motivation. This team has been focused week after week, in terms of its preparation. It's a tribute to my staff and a tribute to my seniors."
The Utes will also be a much more disciplined team than State. They have to be, with the plan of attack they employ. Most of the time Utah doesn't have a tight end, and sometimes they don't have any backs. Instead, the Utes will run anywhere from four to six wideouts
"It's a split back, veer option offense," as Bunting puts it. "What they have the ability to do is absolutely put people on an island, and make you make plays in space. The receivers are good. The quarterback is very, very good. He might be the best one we've faced so far.
"They're on old fashioned, rough and tumble, option team. This is going to be an unbelievable test for our defense that has not played very well, with the exception of the times in the red zone."
But to hear Utah coach Urban Meyer describe his team's misdirection-based "gimmick" scheme, you might wonder who the favored team here is.
"I compare them a lot to Texas A&M with their size, speed and athleticism," Meyer said of the Tar Heels. "To line up with two backs and a tight end and play against a team that has better personnel like they do doesn't make sense. This gives us a chance to have success against a very talented team.
"When we first put that offense together, we didn't have the personnel at Bowling Green," he said. "I liken it to the wishbone. It's hard to prepare for and it's sort of an equalizer. We've made it a little more conventional with some drop back passing, but when we first started; it was almost all misdirection and option. Now it's evolved a little bit.
"We have some excellent players and great leadership. They bought into what we do and we stayed healthy."