Rested Heels Ready For Stretch Run

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina's bye week arrived at the perfect time, following a four-game stretch that included three top-25 opponents. But things don't get any easier for the Tar Heels, as the defending ACC champion Demon Deacons are next up on the schedule.

"This is a big push – this last half of the season," head coach Butch Davis said at his weekly Monday press conference. "But it all starts, one week at a time, with Wake Forest. They're a good football team. This is no smoke and mirrors, [and] this is not by accident.

"There's a reason that they won the ACC. They're playing with a lot of confidence. They've got guys that are used to winning and being competitive, so this will be a big challenge for this football team. Certainly, [a victory] would be a big shot of confidence for our team."

Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe has built his program on maturity and efficiency. The Deacons have 22 fourth or fifth-year players on their two-deep, compared with North Carolina's eight, and while their offense will never be mistaken for a juggernaut, quarterback Riley Skinner leads a balanced and productive attack.

Wake Forest averages 203.3 yards per game through the air (7th in ACC) and 153 yards on the ground (5th in ACC), while ranking third in the conference in points per game (29.4).

The Tar Heel defense appears up to the challenge, however, as defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano's unti has made significant strides through the first seven games of the season, culminating with a standout second-half performance against South Carolina. Steve Spurrier's offense was held to two first downs and 62 yards of offense during the final last 30 minutes two Saturdays ago.

Davis attributed that gradual success to basic understanding of the playbook.

"They're a lot more familiar with the scheme and a lot more familiar with the adjustments," Davis said. "I think that there was some confusion [early on]… There were some growing pains. But I think that they recognized the fact that over the last four games, they've gotten a little bit more confident about where they're supposed to be, and I think it goes along too, with the added preparation."

The defense took a hit Monday morning, however, when starting cornerback Jermaine Strong was indefinitely suspended for violating team rules. The Shelby, N.C. native began the season as Kendric Williams' backup, who suffered a career-ending injury three weeks ago against Virginia Tech.

"In the secondary, you do not like change," Davis said. "It's like losing a member of the offensive line. You like that consistency and continuity of guys being able to play together, but somebody's going to have to step up."

True freshman Charles Brown is the leading candidate to assume the first-team duties at cornerback, having played in all seven games at nickel back and recording 29 tackles and an interception.

Davis indicated that red-shirt freshmen Tavorris Jolly and Anthony Parker-Boyd would also be given opportunities to earn playing time at that position.

The defending conference champions also field an opportunistic defense, allowing 24.7 points and 355.57 yards per game, while ranking first in the ACC in forced turnovers with 21 – 10 fumble recoveries and 11 interceptions. The Deacons have scored 10 non-offensive touchdowns on the season.

"They don't beat themselves," Davis said. "If you're going to win the game against Wake Forest, you're going to have to earn it. They're not going to give it to you."

The North Carolina coaching staff spent the bye week dissecting their program, with hopes to mirror Wake Forest's balanced and fundamentally-sound style of play.

"We have to be more efficient as a football team," Davis said. "We've got to protect and value the football more on offense. We've got to try to create more turnovers on defense, and we've got to play much better on special teams in some areas and stop giving up some of the big plays."

Kickoff is scheduled for noon on Saturday at BB&T Field in Winston-Salem, and will be televised by Raycom/Lincoln Financial.

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