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Heel Tough Blog: Florida State Preview

Saturday, the Tar Heels will hit the road for the second time this season as they face the Florida State Seminoles for the first time since the classic 2016 meeting in Tallahassee. The Tar Heels will bring lofty expectations to Tallahassee with them this time as the nation’s 5th ranked team, but also some question marks following an up and down game with Virginia Tech. The Tar Heels will hope to answer some of those questions and get to 4-0 for the first time since 1997 in their first game as a top five team since that ‘97 season.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels’ offense exploded on Saturday for one the greatest offensive performances in program history. Leading the way was another huge performance from the Tar Heel backfield tandem of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, who ran for 383 yards combined on Saturday. The pair is averaging 232.0 yards rushing per game so far this season, earning them the distinction as one of the top running back duos in the country. The Tar Heel passing game was able to find their rhythm after a bit of a quiet start to the season. Quarterback Sam Howell had one of the best games of his career against the Hokies and he’ll look to build on that success this weekend against the team he was at one time committed to. Dazz Newsome and Dyami Brown enter off the best games of their respective seasons so far and the hope is that, similar to the Virginia Tech game a year ago, their season’s have been jump started. Beau Corrales and Khafre Brown are also ready to contribute when they can after solid starts to their season’s, as well. Garrett Walston has registered a catch in each game, but he and backup Kamari Morales have really thrived in run blocking so far this season. As for the offensive line, Joshua Ezeudu’s return has instilled a ton of confidence and the Tar Heels seem to have dodged a huge bullet with Jordan Tucker’s injury seeming that he suffered against Boston College appearing to have been minor. This unit that looked rough in the first two games of the season was simply flawless against the Hokies on Saturday and will hope to build on that with their leader now back.

The Tar Heel defense was spectacular in the first two games of the season, but was hammered on Saturday against Virginia Tech, especially by their ground game. Losing starting defensive tackle Raymond Vohasek to injury really hurt and the hope is that he can return this weekend to provide some push in the middle up front. If not, the Tar Heels will rely on Tomari Fox and Jahlil Taylor, who weren’t bad on Saturday, but had trouble getting off blocks at times. Without Vohasek in the run game, the Tar Heels went primarily with a 2-4-5 scheme for most of the day against Virginia Tech and the Tar Heel defense will likely stick to that scheme on Saturday if Vohasek is a no go. Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper have had nice starts to the season, but had some trouble containing the edges on Saturday. The good news is, both guys have been able to get to the quarterback consistently so far this season, headmanning a Tar Heel pass rush that has shown some marked improvement early in the season. In the middle of the defense, Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel are once again playing well and Surratt should be motivated to bounce back after a bit of a down game against the Hokies. Eugene Asante saw a solid amount of reps this past weekend and was effective in the reps he saw, making him an interesting candidate for playing time as the season goes along. As for the secondary, there are a lot of injuries and departures that the team has had to deal with, but the unit is still in good shape. Storm Duck appears as if he’ll be out for an extended period of time, but Kyler McMichael and Patrice Rene look more than capable of holding things down and the depth at the position is still in good shape. Trey Morrison made the move back to nickel on Saturday, leaving Cam’Ron Kelly to take most of the reps at strong safety and both had their struggles on Saturday. Don Chapman is continuing to show improvement, though, and is developing into one of the leaders of this defense.

The Tar Heels special teams unit is still an uncertainty after three games this season. Punter Ben Kiernan has been fantastic so far this season, but outside of him, the unit has been very inconsistent. Grayson Atkins has been automatic inside of 35, but has struggled from beyond that range and both return games have just been average so far. The coverage units have definitely seen some improvement since the first game of the season, but they haven’t been tested much in the past two weeks.

Florida State

The Seminoles will come into Saturday’s game looking for their first victory over an FBS opponent in 2020. The offense will look to lead the way for them after showing some positive signs under new starting quarterback Jordan Travis if the injury that he suffered against Louisville is not too serious. He’ll be without his top wide receiver Tamorrion Terry, who was the only receiver over 20 catches and 200 yards so far this season, for an indefinite period of time. Now, the pressure will be on Ontaria Wilson and others to step up. Cameron McDonald has had a nice start to his season, as well, and could be another tough test for this Tar Heel defense that has had their fits with tight ends so far this season. The Seminoles running game is a committee of three running backs, as Jashaun Corbin, La’Damian Webb and Lawrence Toafill have all shared time, combining with Travis, who is the team’s leading rusher through four games. The offensive line’s struggles have been well known throughout the country and this year is not different. The Seminoles really struggle to keep their quarterback upright, allowing 15 sacks so far this season.

The Seminoles defense might be the biggest concern with this 2020 team. The defensive line, including star defensive tackle Marvin Wilson, have really struggled to get any push up front, leading to a lot of success for opposing offenses both running and passing. The linebacking corps has had their troubles stopping the run, but hybrid Amari Gainer is still having a solid start to the season. The defensive backfield contains the team’s biggest star in Asante Samuel Jr., but has been inconsistent outside of him early in the season, which hasn’t been helped by the struggles of the line to get pressure. It also doesn’t help that safety Hamsah Nasirildeen, who was expected to be a key contributor this season, has missed the first four names with a knee injury.

The Seminoles special teams unit looks to be in good shape. Punter Alex Mastromanno has been a weapon all year long and Ryan Fitzgerald appears to be the solution at place kicker after he split time in the first game of the season with Parker Grothaus. Like the Tar Heels, the return game has been quiet so far, but Keyshawn Helton has the speed necessary to make things happen if he gets the opportunity.

Team Stats (rankings are amongst 76 FBS to play a game in 2020)

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 37.7 (19th)

Off. PYPG: 261.7 (27th)

Off. RYPG: 245.0 (8th)

Off. TYPG: 506.7 (7th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 51.4 (13th)

Def. PPG: 24.3 (T-24th)

Def. PYPG: 227.3 (29th)

Def. RYPG: 122.7 (24th)

Def. TYPG: 350.0 (22nd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.0% (32nd)

Sacks: 11.0 (T-15th)

Interceptions: 1 (T-56th)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-64th)

Florida State

Off. PPG: 22.5 (60th)

Off. PYPG: 224.3 (47th)

Off. RYPG: 169.0 (38th)

Off. TYPG: 393.3 (50th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 39.3% (54th)

Def. PPG: 33.5 (T-59th)

Def. PYPG: 259.8 (48th)

Def. RYPG: 194.3 (60th)

Def. TYPG: 454.1 (59th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 49.0% (61st)

Sacks: 3.0 (T-68th)

Interceptions: 3 (T-27th)

Turnover Margin: -2 (T-57th)

Keys To The Game

Limit the Penalties

One of the biggest problems this Tar Heel team has faced so far this season has been discipline. In the first three games of the season, the team is averaging 9.67 penalties per game and 91.33 penalty yards per game, both marks that are amongst the nation's ten worst in both categories this season. Against a Florida State team that is desperate and always plays a physical game, the Tar Heels will need to minimize the mistakes to avoid getting in another nail biter.

Lean of the Run Game

The Tar Heel passing game had their best performance of the season against Virginia Tech, but so did the running game. Right now, the combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams is rolling and they will be going up against a Florida State defense that has had a lot of trouble stopping the run. While the Tar Heels shouldn’t completely abandon the pass game, the Tar Heels should be a run-first football team on Saturday, at least until the Seminoles can prove they can stop them.

Tackle in Open Space

This was one of the biggest issues the Tar Heels had against Virginia Tech and was the reason they were able to rip off so many big plays in the second and third quarters. The defense must do a better job filling gaps, as well, but when they are in position, they have to do a better job of getting opponents to the ground, especially Travis is a go.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), Storm Duck (lower body), Ethan West (undisclosed)

QUEST- Ja’Qurious Conley (undisclosed), Emery Simmons (undisclosed), Raymond Vohasek (undisclosed)

Florida State

OUT- Tamorrion Terry (knee), Jordan Wilson (leg)

QUEST- Andrew Boselli (leg), Robert Cooper (arm), D.J. Matthews (illness), Travis Jay (leg), Hamsah Nasirildeen (knee), Chubba Purdy (collarbone), Darious Washington (leg)

PROB- Jordan Travis (throwing hand)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB# 8 Michael Carter, Sr.

WR# 2 Dyami Brown, Jr.

WR#15 Beau Corrales, Sr.

WR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Sr.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr.

LT#72 Asim Richards, So.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, So.

C#68 Brian Anderson, Jr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Jr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Jr. Defense

END#90 Xach Gill, Sr.

NOSE#56 Tomari Fox, So.

DT#52 Jahlil Taylor, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Jr.

ILB#21 Chazz Surratt, Sr.

OLB#42 Tyrone Hopper, Sr.

CB# 5 Patrice Rene, Sr.

FS# 2 Don Chapman, So.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, So.

CB# 1 Kyler McMichael, So.

NB# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr. OR #97 Noah Ruggles, So.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, So.

LS#60 Trevor Collins, Sr. (K) #61 Drew Little, So. (P)

H#96 Cooper Graham, Jr.

KR# 8 Michael Carter, Sr.

PR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Sr.

Florida State Offense

QB#13 Jordan Travis, So.

RB# 0 Jashaun Corbin, So.

TB# 8 La’Damian Webb, So. OR # 9 Lawrence Toafili, Fr.

WR# 6 Keyshawn Helton, Jr.

WR#80 Ontaria Wilson, Jr.

TE#87 Camren McDonald, Jr.

LT#76 Darious Washington, Sr.

LG#55 Dontae Lucas, So.

C#53 Maurice Smith, RFr.

RG#51 Baveon Johnson, Sr.

RT#58 Devontay Love-Taylor, Sr. Defense

DE#13 Joshua Kaindoh, Jr.

DT#21 Marvin Wilson, Sr.

NG#91 Robert Cooper, Jr.

FOX#11 Janarius Robinson, Sr.

WLB# 1 Emmett Rice, Sr.

MLB#35 Leonard Warner III, Sr.

STUD#33 Amari Gainer, So.

CB#26 Asante Samuel Jr., Jr.

FS# 8 Renardo Green, So.

BUCK# 6 Jaiden Lars-Woodbey, So.

CB# 7 Jarrian Jones, So. Special Teams

K#88 Ryan Fitzgerald, RFr.

P#49 Alex Mastromanno, Fr.

KOS#88 Ryan Fitzgerald, RFr.

LS#42 Garrett Murray, So.

H#30 Tommy Martin, Jr.

KR# 0 Jashaun Corbin, So.

PR# 6 Keyshawn Helton, Jr.

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