North Carolina a big play team

The North Carolina Tar Heels enter Saturday's game 4-1 on the season. Like the Irish, this Tar Heel team is a young but talented group that makes a lot of big plays, but also can make some mistakes along the way. What can we expect from North Carolina on Saturday?

The Tar Heels kicked off their season with a difficult win over an underrated McNeese State, 35-27. It was the Brandon Tate show. The senior Carolina wide receiver rushed three times for 106 yards, and he caught four passes for 93 yards and a score. He also had an 82-yard punt return for a touchdown. He's obviously a dangerous player the Irish will have to slow down to have any chance of winning on Saturday.

Big plays were the difference in the game for NC, as four big plays of over 50 yards put the game out of reach for McNeese State.

North Carolina then clobbered a now 1-4 Rutgers team in New Jersey in their next game. Big plays once again were the difference in the game. Brandon Tate exploded again scoring on a 12-yard run, and a 69-yard pass.

However, the defense also put on a show, forcing four interceptions, including one for a 66-yard interception return for a touchdown. They also picked off a Mike Teel pass in their own end zone right before half with the score 17-6. Overall, the Heel defense dominated Rutgers, and the offense made a lot of big plays to blow out the Scarlet Knights in their own stadium.

North Carolina then hosted Virginia Tech (now 5-1 on the year) at home for their third game of the season. The Tar Heels took a 10-3 lead into halftime fueled by a T.J. Yates 32-yard pass to receiver Brandon Tate.

Unfortunately for the Heels, Yates got hurt in the second half and the wheels started to fall off for the North Carolina. After running back Greg Little scored on a 50-yard run, he later fumbled, giving Va. Tech the ball at the North Carolina 32-yard line. The Hokies would later score to tie the game, 17-17.

The Tar Heels would later make a critical personal foul penalty on a poor punt that put Tech at the Heel 29-yard line. The Hokies would later kick the winning 45-yard field goal for the final score, 20-17, as North Carolina fell to 2-1 on the season.

The loss of Yates was costly as the sophomore quarterback had been very effective, especially throwing the deep ball for the Heels. Replacement Mike Paulus struggled taking over, completing just 3-of-8 passes with two interceptions.

The Heels defense had an impressive game, including four sacks, and holding Tech to just 268 total yards and 3-of-16 on third down. They also forced four turnovers but somehow still lost the game.

Paulus started the next game against Miami (now 2-3) and struggled in his first two series as the Hurricanes jumped out to an early 14-0 lead. Junior quarterback Cameron Sexton was then inserted and the Tar Heels responded.

Miami led at halftime, 17-7, but the big-play North Carolina offense got rolling in the second half. Sexton hit Brandon Tate for 37 yards to set up another score to narrow the lead, 17-14. Miami followed with a score of their own to increase their lead, 24-17, but Sexton then hit junior receiver Hakeem Nicks for a 74-yard bomb to narrow the lead again to 24-21.

Sexton again put together another scoring drive in the fourth quarter to give the Heels the 28-24 lead, this time connecting with senior receiver Brooks Foster for the 14-yard strike.

The Heel defense then rose to the occasion to stop a driving Miami offense with a dramatic interception in their own end zone on the last play of the game.

The North Carolina defense was again opportunistic, nabbing two interceptions, the game-winner, and another when Miami ventured into North Carolina territory. They held Miami to just 309 yards of offense on the day.

The Heels picked up their fourth win on the season last weekend over UConn, 38-12, led by three Heel interceptions on defense, and three blocked punts.

After trading early first quarter field goals, the Tar Heels found the end zone for the first time, capitalizing on a Zach Frazer interception that put the Heels on the UConn 15-yard line, to take the early 10-3 lead.

North Carolina blocked their second punt of the day late in the second quarter and recovered the ball in the end zone for their second score of the day to take the 17-3 lead into half time.

The Heels also capitalized on another Frazer interception, this time with freshman defensive lineman Marvin Austin taking the Frazer pass 23 yards to put the Heels up 31-6.

The Carolina offense didn't produce a lot of yardage on the day, but they didn't need to as they capitalized on the many Husky mistakes on the day. The Tar Heel defense did surrender 168 yards rushing to UConn, but the turnovers and mistakes on special teams were too much to overcome for the Husky offense.

As one can see, the Tar Heels have an explosive offense with some outstanding speed at wide receiver. They don't put together many sustained drives, and don't put up a lot of yards on offense, but their athletes make a lot of big plays and find the end zone often enough to win. They have an improving junior quarterback, and a big-play defense that gives the Heel offense great field position on many of their drives.

Notes:

***The Tar Heels haven't played what many would consider good offenses thus far this season. Virginia Tech (No. 108), Miami (No. 106), and Rutgers (83) have all struggled this year on offense. UConn is ranked No. 46, and averages 390 yards per game, but that was before their starting QB went down to injury and Frazer took over. Still, UConn amassed 378 yards of offense despite their problems holding onto the football.

***Conversely, they have faced some pretty good defenses as UConn (No. 29), Virginia Tech (33), Miami (34) and Rutgers (38) are all ranked in the top 40 in total defense.

***Opponents have out-rushed the Tar Heels thus far this season, 722 to 604. Opponents have averaged 144 yards per game on the ground to Carolina's 121.

***North Carolina also hasn't faced many good passing teams thus far. Virginia Tech (118 yards passing per game), UConn (150 ypg), Miami (117 ypg) and Rutgers (207 ypg) all have struggled a bit throwing the football.

***The Tar Heel defense also hasn't sacked too many quarterbacks with just six sacks on the year.

Conclusion: Overall, North Carolina is a talented team, but a team that can make mistakes. However, they also cause a lot of problems with their defense. They play with a lot of emotion on the field, and are a well-coached team. Notre Dame will have to play very well on Saturday in order to have a chance to win.


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