Countdown to Kickoff: UNC vs. BC

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina returns to the field this weekend with postseason bowl eligibility still just one win away, but the Tar Heels welcome No. 23 Boston College and its stingy defense to Kenan Stadium on Saturday to kickoff a tough final stretch of conference games.

North Carolina (5-2, 1-2 ACC) is hoping to erase the final minutes of last weekend's loss to Virginia, in which the Cavaliers drove 82 yards in the final 2:22 for a game-tying score after their previous longest drive of the afternoon amounted to 38 yards.

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Countdown to Kickoff
A defensive scheme content to drop linebackers into zone coverage to encourage turnovers has looked shaky at best in the closing minutes of three of the past four games, but that strategy will most likely be employed again this weekend as Eagles quarterback Chris Crane (97-of-174 passes for 1,107 yards) has thrown nine interceptions against just five touchdowns this fall.

"They're very opportunistic," said Boston College head coach Jeff Jagodzinski, whose team is 5-1 (2-1 ACC). "They've got 14 interceptions, and three of those things went for touchdowns… It's something that we're going to have to be very careful with."

North Carolina is tied with Iowa and Tennessee for the national lead with those 14 picks.

Crane has also rushed for 113 yards and seven touchdowns, although five of his 12 total scores came against a N.C. State defense that ranks dead last in the ACC, allowing 424.7 yards and 30.6 points per outing.

Public perception has been that Jagodzinski's success in Chestnut Hill has been predominantly with Tom O'Brien's former players, but in reality, 24 players on Boston College's two-deep were recruited by the second-year head coach. None of those individuals, however, have received more attention than true freshman Montel Harris (374 yards and 4 TDs on 58 carries), who has stepped in and performed for injured starter – and fellow freshman – Josh Haden.

In a similar vein, North Carolina running back Shaun Draughn has emerged from his backup position to assume the starting role for the Tar Heels, and the move has paid dividends. The red-shirt sophomore has gained 338 yards over the past three weeks, giving life to a ground attack that struggled in the first four games of the season.

"It's really a whole team effort," center Lowell Dyer said. "We've really placed a lot of emphasis on running the football in the last couple of weeks. We're working on it a lot more in practice, and we're taking pride in it. It's just something that we knew we had to do to help this team succeed."

Draughn's production is a welcome development for quarterback Cam Sexton, who is drawing some criticism despite posting a 3-1 record in T.J. Yates' absence. The red-shirt junior completed 16 of his 25 pass attempts for 166 yards and two interceptions against Virginia.

Consider Jagodzinski as one person that has been impressed with Sexton's play this season.

"Just look at what he's done to get to where he's at," Jagodzinski said. "That guy's a resilient leader. The guy's been waiting his turn and he could have transferred, but he stuck it out and now he's reaping the benefits of that patience."

Sexton will face his toughest challenge to date, as the Eagles' defense ranks in the top-25 nationally in nine different defensive categories, including possessing the best pass efficiency defense (86.70) and red zone defense (.58) in the country.

With a bye looming next weekend, the Tar Heels are hopeful that they can take a 6-2 record and the accompanying positive momentum into the break before Coastal Division opponent Georgia Tech comes to town for Homecoming. But UNC head coach Butch Davis – as always – refuses to put too much significance on any one game for his young squad.

"Every game for us is a big game," Davis said. "Obviously the ACC games take on more importance than certainly some non-conference games, but at the end of the season, it's about the number. How many did you win? We want to play well this week. We want to play well at home. We want to win an ACC game. It's a big challenge. Boston College is a [darn] good football team."

Saturday's kickoff is set for noon (Raycom).

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