UW v UNC - matchup analysis

A close look at the Badgers and Tar Heels leading up to tonight's game at Kenan Stadium

North Carolina offense versus Wisconsin defense

North Carolina projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

QB Matt Baker (Sr. 6-3, 212) MLB Mark Zalewski (Jr. 6-2, 228)
TB Barrington Edwards (So. 6-0, 215) WLB Dontez Sanders (Sr. 6-1, 223)
FB Rikki Cook (Sr. 6-0, 253) SLB LaMarr Watkins (Sr. 6-1, 223)
LT Brian Chacos (Sr. 6-4, 301) RE Jamal Cooper (So. 6-4, 217)
LG Charlston Gray (So. 6-3, 305) RT Nick Hayden (So. 6-5, 302)
C Steven Bell (Sr. 6-3, 280) LT Jason Chapman (Fr. 6-4, 280)
RG Kyle Ralph (Sr. 6-4, 303) LE Joe Monty (Jr. 6-2, 252)
RT Skip Seagraves (Sr. 6-5, 300) SS Joe Stellmacher (Jr. 6-1, 216)
TE Jon Hamlett (Jr. 6-4, 252) FS Roderick Rogers (Jr. 6-2, 181)
WR Jesse Holley (Jr. 6-3, 200) CB Brett Bell (Sr. 6-0, 200)
WR Jarwarski Pollack (Sr. 5-8, 170) CB Allen Langford (Fr. 5-11, 187)

UNC's offense will go as far as senior first-year starting quarterback Matt Baker can take it. He threw for 280 yards on 18 of 39 passing last week in the Tar Heels' season-opening loss at Georgia Tech. He threw two touchdowns and three fourth-quarter interceptions in what was his first career start.

Despite the miscues, when the Tar Heels were pressing late in the game, Baker looks like a competent signal caller who could give a neophyte UW defense trouble, particularly in the first road game for many of its young players.

Baker has several quality receiving options, which could strain a UW secondary that played well last week against Temple but was porous versus a top-notch Bowling Green passing game. Jawarski Pollack is closing in on UNC's all-time receptions record and Jesse Holley led the team with 456 receiving yards last year. Derrele Mitchell caught three balls for 99 yards last week, including an 87-yard touchdown pass. Mike Mason and Wallace Wright give UNC the capability of running with three or four wide receivers consistently in their multiple form offense. Tight end Jon Hamlett is a decent security blanket.

If UNC can combine run and pass and keep the Badgers off balance, they may light up the evening scoreboard. But UNC's running game struggled mightily last week. The Tar Heels have a veteran line, but it needs to get a better push and tailbacks Barrington Edwards and Cooter Arnold need to make more plays. The Badgers' defense, though, is probably not quite as good as the Georgia Tech defense UNC faced on the road last week.

UW's front four has been very good early in the season and is bound to keep getting better. Of the Badgers' current top eight defensive linemen, though, four are freshmen, three are sophomores and one is a junior. For all but starting ends Jamal Cooper and Joe Monty, this will be their first real extended playing time on the road. Bowling Green has a pretty solid offensive line, but this will be the Badger front's biggest test this season.

"I think North Carolina's got some experience, they've got some size, they've got some athleticism," UW defensive line coach John Palermo said this week. "And my hope is that we go in there and we're tougher than they are."

UW's linebackers and secondary will match up fine from an athleticism standpoint. Mark Zalewski will be the best defensive player on the field; UNC will have to be aware of him throughout the day.

Wisconsin offense versus North Carolina defense

North Carolina projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

SLB Larry Edwards (Jr. 6-3, 241) QB John Stocco (Jr. 6-2, 197)
MLB Doug Justice (Sr. 6-2, 230) TB Brian Calhoun (Jr. 5-10, 203)
WLB Tommy Richardson (Sr. 6-1, 228) FB Matt Bernstein (Sr. 6-1, 260)
DE Brian Rackley (Jr. 6-5, 260) LT Joe Thomas (Jr. 6-8, 303)
DT Chase Page (Sr. 6-5, 280) LG Matt Lawrence (Sr. 6-5, 295)
DT Kyndraus Guy (So. 6-2, 275) C Donovan Raiola (Sr. 6-3, 294)
DE Tommy Davis (Sr. 6-4, 270) RG Jason Palermo (Sr. 6-3, 307)
SS Mahlon Carey (Sr. 6-2, 215) RT Kraig Urbik (Fr. 6-6, 317)
FS Kareen Taylor (Jr. 6-0, 195) TE Owen Daniels (Sr. 6-3, 247)
CB Cedrick Holt (Sr. 5-11, 190) WR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
CB Jacoby Watkins (Jr. 6-0, 177) WR Jonathan Orr (Sr. 6-3, 190)

Statistically, UNC's run defense was among the ten worst in the nation last season, allowing more than 200 yards per game. Last week the Tar Heels gave up 122 yards on 33 Georgia Tech attempts. It was far from the worst stat line imaginable but UNC could use some improvement in this area. And they must play well Saturday, or the Badgers will run them up and down Kenan Stadium.

Wisconsin's revamped offensive line has held up well so far, but will face a better collection of athletes this week. Page can be a handful inside but all in all the Badgers' front should have an advantage here. That will put pressure on UNC's linebackers. If they are isolated in the running game against Bernstein and Calhoun, give the edge to UW.

The Badgers do, however, have three new starters on the offensive line, including redshirt freshman Kraig Urbik, who will be making their first starts on the road. When the crowd is into the game that trio will be challenged to maintain its focus.

As much as UNC's run defense is criticized, it has not been much better against the pass. In the Tar Heels season opener at Georgia Tech, the Yellow Jackets completed 25 of 48 passes for 353 yards and two touchdowns. UNC had zero sacks and did not force a turnover. That is consistent with the Heels' output last season, when they struggled to develop a pass rush or create turnovers. UW has a solid pass blocking line, and quarterback John Stocco has always been good at getting the ball out in time, so do not expect UNC to have much success with pressure.

The Badgers' passing game has been efficient so far this year, but really has not been challenged. UNC has some talented, experienced athletes in its secondary, but they gave up too many big plays to Tech and did not make many in return. Strong safety Mahlon Carey was a playmaker against UW two seasons ago in Madison, when he had two interceptions.

Wisconsin versus North Carolina special teams

North Carolina projected starters Wisconsin projected starters

PK/KO Connor Barth (So. 6-1, 192) PK/KO Taylor Mehlhaff (So. 5-11, 179)
P/H David Wooldridge (Jr. 6-2, 200)/Andrew Wasserman (Jr. 6-3, 187) P/H Ken DeBauche (So. 6-2, 219)
LS Warren Green (Sr. 6-2, 221) LS Steve Johnson (So. 6-3, 247)
PR Brandon Tate (Fr. 6-1, 185) PR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)
KR Mike Mason (Jr. 6-0, 190) KR Brandon Williams (Sr. 5-10, 180)

Williams has made some huge plays in the return game this season, with an 85-yard kickoff return and a 66-yard punt return for touchdown to his credit. North Carolina's kick coverage unit was suspect last season and allowed 48 yards on two returns last week. Williams may have an opportunity here, though UNC place kicker Connor Barth is capable of creating touchbacks.

The Tar Heels punt coverage, however, should be strong. UNC boasts a very good punter in David Wooldridge, who averaged 41.7 yards per punt last season, and checked in at 43.2 last week against Georgia Tech. He pinned 25 punts inside the 20 last season and six of his eight punts last week were inside the 20. However, he did have two punts blocked last year. The Badgers have come close to blocking a punt several times the past two games and are bound to get one this season, perhaps Saturday night.

UW remembers Mason, who had a kickoff return for touchdown called back by penalty two seasons ago in Madison. The Badgers' kick coverage has been fine so far, but will have to pay careful attention to Mason. Again, however, UW place kicker Taylor Mehlhaff can make it very difficult on opposing returners to even garner an attempt. Of his 20 kickoffs this year, 10 have gone for touchbacks.

If the game comes down to a field goal or two, give the advantage to UNC. Mehlhaff has attempted just one field goal in his young career, the 39-yarder he made last week. Barth, on the other hand, was 14 of 18 in his freshman year last season. 

Final thoughts

The Badgers' offense will be slowed down considerably compared to its recent performances, but UW will still have quite a bit of success against an improving but still suspect Tar Heel defense. Expect UW tailback Brian Calhoun to top the 100-yard plateau for the second time this season. Quarterback John Stocco will also have success against a secondary that will have a tough time matching up with UW receivers Brandon Williams and Jonathan Orr and tight end Owen Daniels.

The Tar Heels, though, should also have success on offense. Do not expect UNC to get much going in the running game. There may be a big experience gap in the Tar Heels' favor on the line of scrimmage, but UW's defensive line will win this battle in the end. The Badgers will need to put pressure on Baker. UW's secondary is going to get better, but it will still appear wanting at times tonight. Baker will make some big plays in the passing game.

UNC has an edge in the kicking game, but Williams could be an equalizer in this regard.

BadgerNation.com projection: Wisconsin 31, North Carolina 26

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