Opponents preview: North Carolina offense

Part two of BadgerNation.com's look at the Wisconsin football team's first road trip

The Tar Heels' offense was respectably productive last season and should be much of the same this year. The big difference is that stud quarterback Darian Durant is now trying his hand in the NFL after four successful seasons in Chapel Hill. Fifth-year senior Matt Baker steps in this season and, while not the athlete Durant was, could approach Durant's production in the passing game, especially with a solid line in front of him, a fairly deep corps of receivers and a talented pair of tailbacks that should provide balance.

2004 by the numbers

Total offense: 390.7 yards per game (No. 43 nationally)
Scoring offense: 26.6 (50)
Passing offense: 214.4 (57)
Passing efficiency: 134.4 (35)
Rushing offense: 176.3 (35)
Touchdowns: 37 – 19 rushing, 18 passing
Third-down conversions: 41 percent; 64 of 157
Turnover margin: -4 (85); lost 8 of 17 fumbles and 11 interceptions
Field goal kicking: 14 of 18
Kick returns: 20.5 (51)
Punt returns: 7.6 (81)

Quarterbacks analysis

Senior Matt Baker (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) has gargantuan shoes to fill. But after three years as a backup to Darian Durant, it is Baker's turn to direct the Tar Heels' offense.

Baker completed 23 of 36 passes for 326 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions last year and is 44-80-623-3-3 for his career. While that is a far cry from the more than 8,000 yards and 68 touchdowns Durant delivered in his record-setting career, Baker is a capable signal caller who has a strong grasp of the offense.

His backup, third-year sophomore Roger Heinz (6-2, 205), has yet to throw a collegiate pass. He competed with Baker for the No. 2 job last year, had a shot at the starting job this spring and is expected to be a capable reserve.

True freshman Cameron Sexton was one of the top quarterbacks in the nation for the 2005 recruiting class. He enrolled at UNC this spring to get an early jump on his college career, but he broke his ankle in one of the last practices of the spring. He was expected to be out 3-4 months and could be ready in time for fall camp, but he is reportedly going to redshirt.

The Tar Heels' future depth received a good boost when 2004 Nebraska starter Joe Dailey announced he was transferring to UNC. But per NCAA rules, Dailey will sit out the 2005 season, with two years of eligibility remaining.

Offensive line analysis

This is a talented, experienced group headlined by senior guard Kyle Ralph (6-4, 295), a second-team All-ACC choice last year — the Tar Heels only returning All-ACC honoree on either side of the ball.

Ralph will be rejoined on the right side of the line by tackle Skip Seagraves (6-5, 290), who started all 12 games in 2003 but was forced to redshirt last season after breaking his foot. The NCAA granted his request for a sixth year of eligibility and UNC coach John Bunting said last month that Seagraves has made a healthy return. Seagraves will step in for departed senior Willie McNeill, who was an honorable mention all-conference choice last year.

The left side of the line boasts returning starters in senior tackle Brian Chacos (6-4, 300) and sophomore guard Charlston Gray (6-3, 300) and should be sturdy.

At center UNC must replace first-team All-ACC pick Jason Davis. The top candidates are senior Steven Bell (6-3, 285), who missed most of spring practices with an injury, and sophomore Ben Lemming (6-5, 280). Sophomore Scott Lenahan (6-1, 285) could also factor into the depth.

Other top reserves include freshman guard Calvin Darity (6-4, 285), junior tackles Chris Woods (6-3, 295) and Kendall High (6-4, 280) and senior guard Arthur Smith (6-4, 285).

Receivers analysis

Senior starters Derrele Mitchell (6-3, 212) and Jawarski Pollack (5-8, 170) return, but junior Jesse Holley (6-3, 196) will likely push for a starting job.

Holley had 30 catches and a team-best 456 receiving yards last year. Pollock led the team with 45 catches and contributed 408 yards. Mitchell was third in both categories with 21 receptions for 354 yards and also tied for a team high with three touchdown catches.

Junior Mike Mason, the kick returner a year ago, chipped in 19 catches for 272 yards.

Junior tight end Jon Hamlett (6-5, 250) led all non-receivers with 14 catches and 184 yards in 12 games. Senior Justin Phillips (6-4, 236) will serve as a backup after hauling in five passes for 79 yards and a touchdown a year ago. Waiting in the wings is true freshman Richard Quinn (6-3, 225), who graduated early to take part in spring practices.

There are plenty of athletes on board at receiver including Brooks Foster (6-2, 190), sophomore Del Roberts (5-8, 170) and junior Daunte Fields (6-0, 165).

Senior Wallace Wright (6-0, 190) has been mostly a special teams contributor in his time in Chapel Hill, but he caught 10 passes for 119 yards and two touchdowns last year and was one of the captains of the spring game.

Incoming freshman Kenton Thornton (6-5, 225) is also one to watch. Thornton originally committed to the University of Texas for the class of 2004, but never signed a letter of intent and chose to attend a prep school instead.

Running backs analysis

After being limited by an ankle injury last year, Ronnie McGill was supposed to be the Tar Heels' first option on offense in 2005. But the junior tore a pectoral muscle while weight lifting in June and is likely out until November.

In McGill's absence, the running load will fall to sophomores Barrington Edwards (6-0, 210) and Vince Wilson (5-9, 190).

Edwards, like Wisconsin's Brian Calhoun, is a transfer who reportedly spent last season dominating on the scout team. Unlike Calhoun, Edwards is a slashing runner without pure breakaway speed. In any case, the LSU transfer will likely be the starter this fall and could be more productive than departed senior Chad Scott was a year ago.

Wilson entered spring as the No. 2 behind McGill and could still end up being the starter. He managed a disheartening -3 yards on nine carries as a true freshman a year ago. But he should make a big leap this fall.

Second-year tailback Antwain Carey (6-0, 205) and true freshmen Richie Rich (5-9, 180) and R.J. Waters (6-0, 210) could also factor into the rotation.

At fullback the Tar Heels must replace Madison Hedgecock, who started 2 ½ years at fullback and one season at defensive end at UNC. His successor will either be junior Rikki Cook (6-0, 265) or freshman Michael Briggs (6-0, 225).

Special teams notes

Sophomore Connor Barth (6-1, 175) is a very good place kicker. As a true freshman last year, he made 14 of 18 field goal attempts (78 percent), including 11 of 13 from within 40 yards, 2 of 3 from 40-49 yards and 1 of 2 from 50 and beyond. He also made 35 of 37 extra point attempts.

In close games, having a kicker like Barth on hand is a huge boost.

The Tar Heels could use a boost for their return game, which was middling last season. Mike Mason returned 22 kicks for a 23.1 yard average last year, but Trimane Goddard is listed No. 1 heading out of spring. He averaged 19.4 yards per return on nine attempts last year. Wallace Wright and Del Roberts checked in at 16.9 and eight; and 21.7 and seven, respectively.

Jawarski Pollock averaged 8.4 yards per attempt on 19 punt returns last year. He is expected to cede that duty to sophomore Quinton Person (5-11, 182), who had four returns for 27 yards last year.

Matching up with Wisconsin

As the Badgers replace four starters on their defensive line this season, creating a persistent pass rush will be a regular concern. UW has considerable talent in its young defensive line, but against a veteran corps line UNC the Badgers may need to blitz with regularity to put pressure on Baker.

In this regard, the Tar Heels may benefit from their incredibly difficult schedule. After opening at Georgia Tech, which should boast a ferocious defense this year, anything that UW concocts may seem tame in comparison.

The Badgers' linebackers and defensive backs should match up reasonably well with the Tar Heels' skill players, but if Baker has time to deliver the football UNC's experience at receiver may be too much for UW.

On paper, and still two months before the season begins, this matchup looks pretty even. Do not expect the Badgers to shut UNC down, but do not expect the Tar Heels to push much beyond 20 points either.

UNC has a clear edge with Barth kicking field goals; he could be the deciding factor in what, on paper, should be a close game.

Badger Nation Top Stories