Head-to-Head: UNC-USF

What are the key battles to watch in Saturday's game against South Florida? Inside Carolina takes a closer look at the five head-to-head matchups that will determine the outcome ...

1. UNC's Pass Offense vs. USF's Secondary

The obvious bright spot for North Carolina this season has been T.J. Yates and his merry band of big-play receivers in Hakeem Nicks, Brandon Tate and Brooks Foster. The red-shirt freshman quarterback has thrown for 901 yards and nine touchdowns, while his skilled wideouts have combined for 674 yards and eight touchdowns.

"I'm very impressed with the quarterback, he's got very good feet, he's got range, he makes plays, quick release, and very confident," South Florida head coach Jim Leavitt said. "… Their receivers are outstanding, absolutely outstanding. They have some of the best receivers I've seen in a while."

The Tar Heels are going to have to live up to those compliments this weekend, as they will be challenged mightily from the start.

Cornerback Mike Jenkins would have been selected in the first four rounds of the NFL Draft last April, but decided to return for his senior season at South Florida. He showed why he's rated so highly in the 26-23 upset of Auburn two weeks ago, intercepting Tiger quarterback Brandon Cox late in the fourth quarter and returning it 38 yards to the three-yard line.

But Jenkins is not alone – fellow corner Trae Williams is just as dangerous, with 13 tackles on the season. The two have combined for 62 career starts.

"These are the two best corners that we've played against this year," North Carolina head coach Butch Davis said. "They are legitimately guys that have got great athletic ability, so it will present a huge challenge for our offense."

If those two cornerbacks were not enough, safety Nate Allen has exploded onto the scene, posting 14 tackles, two interceptions, a fumble recovery and a tackle for loss in two games.

2. UNC's Offensive Line vs. USF's George Selvie

The North Carolina offensive line squared off against arguably the ACC's top defensive end last weekend in UVa's Chris Long. This week, the Tar Heel offensive line will be challenged by defensive end George Selvie, who leads the nation with 5.5 sacks even though he's only played in two ball games.

"He plays totally different," Davis said. "They're both very dynamic players. People think very highly of both of them, but they're totally different. One's a power, fast, explosive inside rusher with Chris, and on the outside the kid at South Florida is a lot faster and a lot quicker. He's got edge speed … not as big, but every bit as dynamic as Chris was."

After two early sacks by the UVa front three last Saturday, the Tar Heels' offensive line settled down, allowing only one QB takedown the rest of the contest, but they must do a better job in maintaining their blocks to help Yates find his passing lanes.

Long jumped at the line of scrimmage and intercepted Yates to end a late North Carolina drive, and UVa nose tackle Nate Collins batted down a pass to a wide open Tate on a late potential game-tying two-point conversion.

With Selvie now gaining national attention for his success in getting to opposing quarterbacks, he's prepared for double teams and running back hits to try to slow him down coming off the edge.

"I'm expecting to see more of that," Selvie said. "The coaches have been telling me that some running backs are going to come up and chip me, but I've still got to go hard and try to get to the quarterback any way that I can."

3. UNC's Pass Defense vs. USF's Matt Grothe

North Carolina defended a mobile quarterback in each of the three contests to start this season, but still was susceptible in the passing game (219.7 ypg). The Tar Heels face their first legitimate passing threat on Saturday in quarterback Matt Grothe.

Grothe earned Big East Conference Freshman of the Year honors last season, throwing for 2,576 yards and 15 touchdowns on 202-of-317 passing. He has picked up where he left off so far, passing for 422 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions.

"Matt throws the ball very well," Davis said. "He's got an array of receivers. He made some of the best throws against what I thought was some really, really good coverage at Auburn… he made some big-time throws down the field."

He's quickly become a fan favorite, following the Auburn come-from-behind victory two weeks ago. Not only did he throw for 184 yards and a touchdown against the Tigers, but the Lakeland, Fla. native also ran for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Grothe is confident that the Tar Heel pass defense will be prepared come noon Saturday.

"They know we're a good team, because of the reputation that Auburn has, so they're going to have to prepare for us at a different level," Grothe said. "That makes it even more fun."

4. UNC's Ground Game vs. USF's Run Defense

Through three ball games, the North Carolina rushing attack has only managed 79.7 yards per game, good for 11th in the ACC and 104th nationally.

South Florida's run defense, on the other hand, is only allowing 79.0 ypg, tops in the Big East and 18th nationally. The Bulls front seven have been solid, with linebackers Ben Moffitt and Brouce Mompremier leading the way with a combined 38 tackles and 3.5 tackles for loss.

Newcomer Tyrone McKenzie has also been a bright spot at linebacker, posting 16 tackles in two games. The junior led Iowa State in tackles last fall and transferred to USF after the season ended, but was able to play immediately thanks to a NCAA hardship waiver.

"That's how our defense should work," Moffitt said. "If the safeties are leading the team in tackles, that's not what you want in our style of defense. That's how it should be that the linebackers are leading."

And while Tar Heel opponents have been successful in gaining yards after contact, North Carolina's offensive backfield have not had much luck in breaking tackles.

"One of the frustrating things is that we've got to try to do a better job," Davis said. "We've got to continue to try to give our running backs an opportunity to have a chance to be a little bit more successful."

5. Youth vs. Youth

North Carolina has been able to play the youth card this season, with a dozen new starters and over half the roster having never seen live action prior to the James Madison season opener.

But South Florida is right there with the Tar Heels, as only four seniors are listed on the Bulls' offensive two-deep. Fourteen freshmen are also on that two-deep, compared to 18 for North Carolina.

The primary difference is that South Florida returns 16 starters from a year ago, while the Tar Heels' number is half that.

Grothe, Selvie and Allen are all sophomores, and while they have a season of experience under their collective belts, it should be noted that the USF program is ranked in the top-25 for the first time ever, as well as coming off the school's biggest upset in history in the 26-23 victory at Auburn. The Bulls are doing their best to not let recent success affect their performance on Saturday.

"We come out here everyday and we just try to work and get better," Moffitt said. "I try not to pay attention as much as possible about what all is going on and different things."

North Carolina has already faced a raucous crowd of 43,000 strong against East Carolina, which should serve them well heading down to Tampa. Despite Raymond James Stadium's total capacity of 65,657, the Bulls played their season opener in front of 33,639.

"Playing on the road in general is one of the things that good football teams have to learn to do, because eventually, if you're going to win and win big, half of your games are going to be on the road," Davis said. "You're going to have to play in some hostile environments every single week."

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