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Heel Tough Blog: Florida State Preview

Mack Brown has not fared well against his alma mater to say the least in his college coaching career. Brown is 0-10 all time against the Florida State Seminoles, a team that he played for in 1972 and 1973. The Tar Heels may have their best chance to pick up that elusive win for him over the Seminoles on Saturday afternoon when they welcome them to Kenan Stadium for the first time since 2009. This is not only a big game for Brown, but for this 2021 Tar Heel team that simply has no margin for error going forward if they want to win the ACC Coastal.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

Coming off the win over Duke, the Tar Heels are still in search of consistency for this 2021 team. Offensively, the team is hoping they can start to turn the page on what has been an abysmal start to the season for the offensive line. The center position remains in flux which is a big reason for the struggles, but the tackle positions have also been a big part of the issues, as well. The staff has been shuffling the lineups more and more over the past couple of weeks in the hope of finding some solutions here. The important thing that this group has to do is cut down on the negative plays that have plagued this team early on. Quarterback Sam Howell has been the player that has paid the most for the problems up front, as he has taken 22 sacks so far this season and is easily one of the most pressured quarterbacks in all of college football. Even with all the pressure that he has been under, Howell has still had three really strong performances this season and some impressive numbers overall. He has not been the most talked about member of this offense, though, so far this season. That title goes to Josh Downs who has exceeded the lofty expectations that he came into the season with and he ranks as one of the nation’s top wide receivers so far this season. Outside of him, though, the unit hasn’t been able to find any consistency, something that they will need going forward from the group of outside receivers. The tight ends have been used more often this season and it has helped the offense, primarily in the red zone. The offensive line’s struggles have been a big part of the struggle for the team to find consistent running back play, but guys like Ty Chandler and D.J. Jones need to step up down the stretch here and attempt to give the Tar Heels offense that strong rushing presence that it needs to succeed.

On the defensive side of the football, the Tar Heels are coming off of arguably their best game of the season and will look to carry that into this weekend’s meeting with the Noles. It all starts up front where the team is starting to see some playmakers step forward led by sophomore Myles Murphy. If he and guys like Kaimon Rucker and Kevin Hester Jr. can continue their growth, this group has a chance to wreak some havoc the rest of the season. The key is consistency, something they are also looking for out of their edge rushers who are still struggling to provide pressure from time to time. The linebacking corps bounced back to have a really strong performance after a rough second half in Atlanta and the hope is that the three-man rotation that they are working with right now will help them to sustain that success moving forward. The team is beat up once again in the secondary with corners Storm Duck and Dae Dae Hollins currently out of the lineup, which has forced Jay Bateman and the guys to move things around. Don Chapman played a lot of outside corner this past weekend against Duke and that is something that you could see more of going forward with the lack of depth and the same can be said for Ja’Qurious Conley who made the move back to the nickel spot for the majority of his snaps on Saturday. The growth of Cam’Ron Kelly, a guy that Bateman raved about earlier this week when talking with the media, is a big reason behind why this move was made, as well. It’s also helpful for this unit that guys like Tony Grimes and Trey Morrison are also coming off of their best games of the season.

The special teams unit has shown some signs of progress this season, but this is still a unit whose performance has fluctuated week to week. Punter Ben Kiernan continues to be a steady option at punter but did have a bit of a rough showing on Saturday, as did reliable kickoff man Jonathan Kim who kicked a few short leading to some productive returns for Duke. Josh Downs continues to provide some optimism as the team punt returner, but there still aren’t many answers for the team at kick returner. The coverage units have been much better this season than a year ago, however, and the punt block group has taken massive strides so far this year. Kicker Grayson Atkins is the biggest factor ultimately in the success of this group and he is of to a 4-7 start this season, something that is a bit concerning, especially with his struggles once again on long kicks.

Florida State

This Seminoles team provided a lot of hope out of the gate with a strong performance against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish, but since then it has been a bumpy road that includes a loss to an FCS opponent. The offense continues to struggle with the lack of a consistent starter under center, as both McKenzie Milton and Jordan Travis have split time this season. Travis has been the more successful player in the passing game, but he has also turned the ball over more than Milton so far. The receiving is nothing to right home about as only three guys have reached the 100 yards receiving mark so far and none have gotten to the 150-yard mark through the first five games of the season. The strength of this Seminole offense is their running game led by the running back combination of Jashaun Corbin and Treshaun Ward, who are averaging nearly eight yards per carry combined. Travis also has the ability to be a major factor in the running game, such as he was a year ago against the Tar Heels in Tallahassee. The Seminoles’ offensive line is still an issue, though, as similar to the Tar Heels, they rank near the bottom of the country in nearly every major statistical category. The Tar Heels have to be careful, though, considering their struggling unit a year ago push them around.

The Seminoles defense has been one that can only be classified as hit and miss. They lead the conference and one of the nation’s best in sacks and tackles for a loss, but it is still a team that is allowing a bunch of points and yards overall. The defensive line has been great so far this season led by defensive end Jermaine Johnson, who leads the team in tackles, tackles for loss and sacks. Guys like Keir Thomas and Amari Gainer have also been productive off of the edges to start this season and will pose a stiff test for that struggling Tar Heel offensive line. The linebacking corps isn’t quite as star-studded as it has been in past years with the duo of Kalen DeLoach and DJ Lundy being the two main options in the middle of the unit. The secondary has been torn apart a bit this season early on with Travis Jay and Jammie Robinson being the only real signs of positivity for them so far this season.

Special teams-wise this has been an average unit so far this season. Punter Alex Mastramanno has been solid so far this season, but Ryan Fitzgerald has been a bit of a concern having missed two extra points and two field goals already this season. The return units have been fairly mediocre to this point of the season, as well, with no one really providing any sort of spark early on.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 37.6 (20th)

Off. PYPG: 309.6 (15th)

Off. RYPG: 187.2 (39th)

Off. TYPG: 496.8 (13th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 48.3% (22nd)

Def. PPG: 25.0 (T-73rd)

Def. PYPG: 225.8 (69th)

Def. RYPG: 142.8 (73rd)

Def. TYPG: 368.6 (67th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 34.3% (40th)

Sacks:11.0 (T-60th)

Interceptions: 4 (T-49th)

Turnover Margin: -1 (T-78th)

Florida State

Off. PPG: 25.0 (T-87th)

Off. PYPG: 183.2 (110th)

Off. RYPG: 201.4 (28th)

Off. TYPG: 384.6 (74th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 35.8% (T-92nd)

Def. PPG: 31.4 (T-105th)

Def. PYPG: 256.2 (T-103rd)

Def. RYPG: 153.6 (85th)

Def. TYPG: 409.8 (93rd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 40.7% (87th)

Sacks: 14.0 (T-31st)

Interceptions: 3 (T-77th)

Turnover Margin: -8 (128th)

Keys To The Game

Win the Battle Up Front Defensively

This was a major part of the Tar Heels success last week and it needs to be part of the success again this week. Guys like Myles Murphy and Raymond Vohasek need to be able to win at the point of attack to slow this running game of Florida State down and also slowing down the mobility of Jordan Travis, which killed this team a year ago. If they can win up front again, that takes the pressure off the rest of the unit behind them and could lead to a lot more success.

Limit the Pressure on Sam

This is something that has proven to be more easier said than done but there are a few ways to do it. The obvious way is for the offensive line to step up and play better, which is definitely possible but something that shouldn’t be banked on by offensive coordinator Phil Longo. The second is to have more max protect packages, something that will help alleviate some of the pressure but will limit the targets that Howell has. The quick passing game is another way to limit the effects of the pass rush but that does require the Tar Heel receivers to create quick separation of the line of scrimmage, which may be a bit of a challenge for them. The important thing here is that have to find a way to keep Howell from taking as many hits as he has so far this season.

Win the Turnover Battle

This one seems obvious, but it is extremely important in this one. In the games they have lost this season, the Tar Heels have been a -4 in the turnover margin, so it is paramount that they take care of the football in this game and going forward this season. The other part of this is how turnover-prone the Seminoles have been so far this season. If the Tar Heels can force them into mistakes, that could go a long way toward helping them get what should be the first win for Mack Brown in his career against Florida State.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

DOUBT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- British Brooks (undisclosed), Storm Duck (lower body), Caleb Hood (upper body)

PROB- Brian Anderson (lower body), Quiron Johnson (undisclosed)

Florida State

OUT- Dennis Briggs Jr. (undisclosed)

QUEST- Emmett Rice (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, Jr.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr. OR #88 Kamari Morales, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr. Defense

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

OLB#17 Chris Collins, Jr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, So.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Jr.

CB#1 Kyler McMichael, Jr.

NB# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR#19 Ty Chandler, Sr. OR #21 Elijah Green, RFr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.

Florida State Offense

QB#13 Jordan Travis, So. OR #10 McKenzie Milton, Sr.

RB# 0 Jashaun Corbin, So. OR # 8 Treshaun Ward, RFr.

WR# 6 Keyshawn Helton, Jr.

WR#80 Ontaria Wilson, Jr.

WR# 7 Andrew Parchment, Sr.

TE#87 Camren McDonald, Jr.

LT#52 Robert Scott Jr., RFr.

LG#75 Dillan Gibbons, Sr.

C#53 Maurice Smith, RFr.

RG#58 Devontay Love-Taylor, Sr.

RT#76 Darius Washington, RFr. Defense

DE#11 Jermaine Johnson II, Sr.

DT# 0 Fabien Lovett, So.

NT#91 Robert Cooper, Jr.

FOX# 4 Keir Thomas, Sr.

STUD#33 Amari Gainer, So.

WILL#20 Kalen DeLoach, So.

MIKE#46 DJ Lundy, RFr.

CB# 9 Meiko Dotson, Sr.

BUCK#23 Sidney Williams, RFr.

FS# 8 Renardo Green, So.

CB# 3 Jarvis Brownlee Jr., RFr.

NB#10 Jammie Robinson, So. Special Teams

K#88 Ryan Fitzgerald, RFr.

KOS#37 Parker Grothaus, Jr.

P#21 Alex Mastromanno, RFr.

LS#49 James Rosenberry Jr., So.

H#21 Alex Mastromanno, RFr.

KR#16 Corey Wren, RFr.

PR# 6 Keyshawn Helton, Jr.



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