Head-to-Head: UNC-Wake Forest

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

1. UNC's Cornerbacks vs. WFU's Kenneth Moore

The cornerback situation in Chapel Hill turned bad when Kendric Williams suffered a career-ending injury at Virginia Tech, and things got worse earlier this week with the indefinite suspension of backup-turned-starter Jermaine Strong.

Head coach Butch Davis attempted to impart some humor into the circumstances on Monday, saying, "We'd like to get Dre' Bly back, but I don't think the Denver Broncos are going to let him come back and play."

Bly's not going to be able to suit up against Wake Forest on Saturday, which is unfortunate for the Tar Heels, as the ACC's leading receiver resides in Winston-Salem. Not only is senior Kenny Moore bringing in eight receptions a game, but he is also leading the conference with 153.1 all-purpose yards a game.

"Kenny's just so special," Skinner said. "He gets himself open a lot… Obviously the catches have been a little skewed, with Kenny getting 80 percent of our catches this year, but something special happens when he gets the ball. He makes things happen when he gets the ball. When you have a player like that, you want to get him the ball as much as you can."

Incumbent starting cornerback Kendric Burney (30 tackles) is likely to draw Moore on the majority of plays, but the Deacons will shift their playmaker enough to draw matchups with other CB defenders such as Charles Brown, Tavorris Jolly and possibly even QB-turned-DB Anthony Parker-Boyd. Brown (29 tackles, one interception) appears to be the front-runner for the job, despite his true freshman status.

"He has a lot of game experience under his belt, and (the defensive backs) go against some of the best receivers in the nation every day," senior linebacker Durell Mapp said of Brown. "So that takes care of the [question of] 'Can he cover?"'

2. UNC's Ground Game vs. WFU's Run Defense

North Carolina's improvement in the running game has been consistent since the South Florida debacle, as the Tar Heels averaged only 79.5 yards during the first four games of the season, but that number has jumped to 140 yards over the last three contests, with a variety of running backs earning playing time.

The most telling development has been offensive coordinator John Shoop's play calling in this area, as Greg Little lined up in the shotgun against South Carolina (a la Arkansas' Darren McFadden) and gained 29 yards on four carries. Those calls signify that Shoop is not married to one particular set of guidelines – if the traditional running plays aren't working, then he will utilize reverses and QB draws to make up the difference.

With that said, the Tar Heels already have more rushing touchdowns this season (12) than they had in all of 2006 (8).

"With the new scheme and everything, it just took it a little while for everybody to get comfortable with how it should be played out," junior offensive tackle Garrett Reynolds said. "That's one thing that's been learned, and week by week it's getting better."

Wake Forest ranks in the middle of the ACC in run defense, giving up 132.9 yards per game. But those numbers don't do the Demon Deacons' Jekyll and Hyde nature justice. Boston College, Army, Duke and Florida State combined for just 287 yards on the ground, while Nebraska, Maryland and Navy accumulated 643 total rushing yards. Linebacker Aaron Curry (56 tackles, nine tackles for loss) and defensive end Jeremy Thompson (25 tackles, 8.5 tackles for loss) anchor the Deacon's front seven.

3. UNC's Defensive Line vs. WFU's Riley Skinner

The 2006 ACC Freshman of the Year has continued his improbable run as an emerging star quarterback in the ACC. Skinner only needs five more victories in his young career to become the all-time winning quarterback in Wake Forest school history.

But despite the red-shirt sophomore completing a stunning 72 percent of his passes through seven games, he has thrown nine interceptions to just six touchdowns.

"I think our biggest concern early in the season was turnovers. We were completing a lot of balls but some of them were to the wrong guys," Wake Forest head coach Jim Grobe said. "For Riley to be 70 percent or higher is really, really good and hopefully we can continue to be effective."

Skinner's success is due in part to the Demon Deacons' offensive line, which has only allowed seven sacks on the season – the same number of sacks that defensive end Hilee Taylor has for the Tar Heels. That type of pressure is crucial for North Carolina to contain Wake Forest's passing attack (203.3 yards per game), because the loss of Strong at cornerback will only make the North Carolina secondary more susceptible to big passing numbers (130.18 pass efficiency defense rating is second-worst in the ACC).

Grobe and his players have noted the Tar Heels' strength along the front four, however, as Kentwan Balmer (40 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) and Marvin Austin (16 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss) have stabilized defensive line coach John Blake's unit.

"Butch Davis has done a very good job getting that defense lined up right," Skinner said. "They show a lot of different coverages and they disguise a lot of things. It's going to be tough to move the ball."

4. UNC's Run Defense vs. WFU's Running Backs

The Tar Heels are allowing 141.29 yards per game on the ground this fall, but they have reduced that number in recent contests against Miami and South Carolina, holding those teams to 109 and 110 yards, respectively.

Linebacker Durell Mapp (76 tackles, five tackles for loss) and safety Deunta Williams (39 tackles) have played significant roles in plugging the running lanes for opposing tailbacks, and defensive tackle Cam Thomas' return to the lineup from an ankle injury gives defensive coordinator Chuck Pagano a mountain in the middle at 325 pounds.

The senior defensive leaders will also have to provide on-the-field guidance for the young and inexperienced players on the Tar Heel defense, as Grobe's run offense is built on misdirection and catching opposing defenses out of position.

It helps to have options in the ground game, and Grobe has two in senior Micah Andrews and red-shirt freshman Josh Adams. The veteran has contributed 255 yards and two touchdowns on the season, but the speedy youngster has earned ACC Freshman of the Week honors three times this fall, gaining 495 yards and four touchdowns.

"[Adams] learned the offense which has really helped him," Grobe said. "He's a guy who catches on fast. He's learned our offense pretty well. He doesn't make very many mental mistakes. We knew he had the good foot speed and the ability to make people miss.

"What's been impressive for me about Josh is that he's been pretty physical. For a guy who's not too heavy, he gets north in a hurry and isn't afraid to run into people. He's been impressive in every way; we couldn't be happier."

The Demon Deacons are averaging 153 yards on the ground – good for fifth in the ACC.

5. UNC's T.J Yates vs. WFU's Secondary

Yates has cooled off considerably since the first three games of the season, throwing nine interceptions to just one touchdown in that time span. But ironically enough, Yates' development as a collegiate quarterback has blossomed during the last four contests.

After a disappointing performance against South Florida, the red-shirt freshman led late game charges against top-20 programs in Virginia Tech and South Carolina, and steadied the offense during a third-quarter Miami run that ended in victory.

But in order for Yates to churn out more victories and less defeats, the Marietta, Ga. native is going to have to improve his sometimes questionable decision-making, something that this opportunistic Demon Deacon secondary has thrived on this season.

Junior cornerback Alphonso Smith leads the back seven with 29 tackles, three forced fumbles and four interceptions, three of which have been returned for touchdowns.

North Carolina is one of only four ACC schools that has thrown 10 or more interceptions this fall, and the wide receiver corps has dropped several crucial passes as well. But sophomore Hakeem Nicks said earlier this week that special attention would be placed on the protecting the ball during practice.

"The scout team defense is going to have to play like they play, strip the ball from us, going for the interception," Nicks said. "But I feel like our receivers are strong enough that we won't let that happen."

Despite the Deacons big--play mentality in the secondary, that unit has struggled through seven games, allowing 222.7 yards per game through the air (10th in the ACC). Yates is averaging 238.7 passing yards per contest, while Nicks is responsible for 75.3 of those yards.

"They have a lot of good receivers that can stretch the field on us and make plays in the open field," Wake Forest safety Kevin Patterson said.

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