Countdown to Kickoff: UNC vs. UConn

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – Cameron Sexton proved last weekend that North Carolina's lofty preseason goals can still be attained this season, even with starting quarterback T.J. Yates sidelined for five more weeks. The Tar Heels welcome No. 23 Connecticut to Kenan Stadium on Saturday night.

The Huskies' football program is still working to gain national recognition, only having moved from the Football Championship Subdivision ranks in 2002. But head coach Randy Edsall lifted UConn from the Div. I-AA level to a Div. I-A ranking in less than six years, the second-fastest jump in modern college football history (Marshall ‘97).

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Countdown to Kickoff
So regardless of what the national media pundits may think about the Huskies, Butch Davis is fully aware that Connecticut returned 19 starters from 2007's co-Big East Championship team that posted a 9-4 record.

"This is just another one of those games that before the season started, I didn't expect [UConn] being anything other than 5-0," Davis said. "I felt confident – at the time, I didn't know they would be ranked in the top-25 – but you felt like they had too many talented players coming back to not be a good team."

Edsall views the upstart Tar Heels in a similar light.

"You watch the tape and you continue watching the tape, this team, really is just a couple plays away from being an undefeated football team," Edsall said. "They've got a lot of skill, athleticism and a lot of good talent."

North Carolina (3-1, 1-1 ACC) has been fortunate this season with regards to opposing running backs – all four opponents thus far were missing are an integral piece of 2007's ground game, including McNeese State's all-conference running back Kris Bush, Rutgers' All-American Ray Rice, Virginia Tech's leading rusher Brandon Ore and one part of Miami's dynamic duo in Javarris James.

But that changes dramatically this weekend, as Donald Brown's third season in Connecticut's backfield has been his most effective. The red-shirt junior currently leads the nation with a 181.2 yards per game average, including 11 touchdowns and a 6.21 yards per carry mark.

North Carolina's has defended the run well in stretches – 138.5 yards per game, good for 65th nationally – but the Tar Heels will have to put together a full 60-minute performance to slow down Brown, especially with Huskie backup quarterback Zach Frazer getting his first start with starter Tyler Lorenzen sidelined with a broken foot.

Frazer led UConn to a come-from-behind victory over Louisville last Friday, completing 8-of-15 passes for 90 yards and a touchdown in the 26-21 road victory.

"[Frazer] did exactly the same thing for their program that Cam Sexton did for ours," Davis said on Wednesday.

Sexton (11-of-19 passing for 242 yards and two touchdowns against Miami) will once again be called on to lead the Tar Heels against an aggressive defense, although this time he will have a home crowd supporting him under the lights.

Connecticut's victory over Louisville is a perfect example of the Huskies' style of play – not flashy, but productive. The Cardinals outgained UConn in total offensive yards, 508 to 279, but lost the turnover battles, 3-1.

"Did we give up too many yards? Yes," Edsall said during his postgame press conference. "Did we give up too many points? No. The bottom line is how many points a team scores. We made some errors which allowed them to move the ball, but they didn't score points."

North Carolina looks to build its non-conference record to 3-0 this season, and if history is any indication, Connecticut could be ripe for the taking. The Huskies are 14-19 in away games since joining the FBS, with a 12-8 non-conference road record. Only three of those non-conference road wins came against BCS opponents – Wake Forest ('03), Indiana ('06) and Duke ('07). Those teams combined for a 11-25 record during their respective seasons.

Kick-off is at 7 p.m. and will be aired nationally on ESPN2.

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