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Heel Tough Blog: Mercer Preview

@TarHeelFootball- Twitter

Saturday is senior day in Kenan Stadium as Mack Brown and his staff look to help send a senior class that has been through a lot with a win. Against a struggling FCS team like Mercer, there is plenty of confidence that the Heels can set up a must-win matchup with NC State in Raleigh next week to make a bowl game. Let’s get you prepared for the Senior Day meeting with the Bears in Chapel Hill on Saturday.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heel offense has evolved into one of the most lethal in the ACC between the 20s as the season has progressed. It all starts with quarterback Sam Howell (201-342, 2,794 yds, 29-6 TD-INT, 83 rush, -39 yds, TD), who enters the game just one touchdown pass short of tying Mitch Trubisky’s single season record. Howell has thrown for at least 300 yards or more in four of the team’s last five games and averaged over 10.0 yards completion in each of the last five games. It helps that the wide receiving corps has had a fantastic second half of the season, led by the three man rotation of Dazz Newsome (57 rec, 817 yds, 7 TD), Dyami Brown (37 rec, 714 yds, 9 TD) and Beau Corrales (32 rec, 434 yds, 6 TD) that is one of just three receiving trios in the country with 22 or more combined touchdown receptions on the season. Another big help is just how effective this Tar Heel running game has been since that first bye week. Javonte Williams (137 rush, 763 yds, 3 TD, 11 rec, 110 yds) and Michael Carter (134 rush, 663 yds, 0 TD, 17 rec, 130 yds, 2 TD) have carried the bulk of the load so far this season, entering last week’s game as one of just two Power 5 running back duos with each running back over 600+ yards rushing. Antonio Williams (32 rush, 244 yds, 0 TD, 1 rec, 7 yds), the third running back in the rotation, has stepped up with Javonte Williams being banged up and could be the third running back to reach the 300 yard mark this season if he can build on that momentum in the final two games. The offensive line has had an interesting journey this season, highlighted by a lot of moving parts and injury issues. The good news is that the unit has buckled down late in the season with the return of Nick Polino to help pave the way for the running game, but they’ve still struggled to protect Howell at times. The biggest struggles for this offense, though, have come in the red zone, where the Tar Heels have converted just 19 of their 39 red zone trips into touchdowns, including just four red zone rushing touchdowns.

The offense’s success has helped to take some of the attention off of a defense that has begun to collapse in the past couple of games. It all starts up front, where the defensive has been ineffective since the midway point of the season outside of Aaron Crawford (45 ttkl, 7.5 TFL, 3.0 scks, FF) and Jason Strowbridge (39 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 scks, FF, 3 FR, PD), who opposing teams have been able to scheme against with the struggles the rest of the defensive line has had. That has put pressure on a young secondary, who has been picked apart and struggled with communication since Patrice Rene (6 ttkl) and Myles Wolfolk (25 ttkl, 1.0 TFL, 3 INT) were lost for the season due to injury. Myles Dorn (71 ttkl, 4.5 TFL, INT, 4 PD) has been the lone consistent bright spot and help to energize this unit enough to help slow down the Mercer and NC State passing attacks. The linebacking corps has been the strength of this defense for most of the season, thanks to Chazz Surratt (95 ttkl, 11.5 TFL, 5.0 scks, FF, INT, 2 PD) and Jeremiah Gemmel (73 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 2.5 scks, 2 FF, 2 PD), both of whom have had big years. They’ve even had their struggles late in the year, as they have been forced to help the struggling secondary, leading them to be less aggressive, something that allowed them to be so effective early in the year.

The special teams unit has settled in after a bit of a rough start. Punter Ben Kiernan (51 punts, 41.5 avg) has had a solid season for the Tar Heels as a freshman and placekicker Noah Ruggles (28-28 XP, 15-21 FG, Long of 49) has found groove after returning from his benching following the Virginia Tech game. The return game continues to be in good hands, as Michael Carter (15 KR, 25.8 avg) and Dazz Newsome (9 PR, 7.0 avg) have looked good in their limited return opportunities. The coverage units have also responded from a slow start.


The Bears enter with an offense that hasn’t put up a ton of yards, but has put up plenty of points. Kaelan Riley (77-144, 953 yds, 5-5 TD-INT, 27 rush, 105 yds) has fully replaced Robert Riddle (121-211, 1,453 yds, 15-11 TD-INT, 32 rush, 169 yds, 2 TD) and has been up and down since taking over the starting job against The Citadel. Riley has a solid wide receiving corps to throw to, led by David Durden (38 rec, 578 yds, 4 TD), who leads the team in each major receiving category. The strength of this offense is the running game, though, because of the evolution of Tyray Devezin (194 rush, 949 yds, 11 TD, 15 rec, 125 yds, 2 TD). The offensive line has had a nice year, allowing just ten sacks this season.

The Bears' defense has been a disaster so far this season. The unit enters Saturday’s game allowing 33.6 points per game, 466.6 total yards of offense per game and 259.5 rushing yards per game. The Bears have struggled to get after the quarterback, but the combination of Jack Raines (51 ttkl, 6.0 TFL, 1.5 scks, FF, PD) and Dorain Kithcart (30 ttkl, 7.5 TFL, 1.0 sck) still poses a threat. The linebacking corps has had some major issues this season, but Sidney Otiwu (84 ttkl, 3.0 TFL, 1.0 sck, 2 INT, 2 PD) might be the best overall player on this defense. Safety Eric Jackson (82 ttkl, 0.0 TFL, 0.0 scks, 2 FR, 6 PD) is another name to keep an eye on.

The Bears special teams unit might be the best overall unit on the team. Placekicker Caleb Dowden (37-39 PAT, 13-17 FG, Long of 45) has had a nice season, while both David Durden (24 KR, 27.0 avg) and Deondre Johnson (7 KR, 34.6 avg, TD) have been great returning kicks. Punter Grant Goupil (37 punts, 38.0 avg) and Tucker Cannon (15 PR, 6.9 avg) hasn’t been spectacular, but they’ve been solid.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 27.8 (75th)

Off. PYPG: 281.9 (29th)

Off. RYPG: 165.2 (63rd)

Off. TYPG: 447.1 (33rd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.1% (86th)

Def. PPG: 27.8 (T-68th)

Def. PYPG: 247.3 (92nd)

Def. RYPG: 159.2 (64th)

Def. TYPG: 406.5 (73rd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 39.9% (73rd)

Sacks: 25.0 (T-37th)

Interceptions: 8 (T-61th)

Turnover Margin: +2


Off. PPG: 28.7

Off. PYPG: 221.6

Off. RYPG: 149.4

Off. TYPG: 371.0

Off. 3rd Down %: 39.7%

Def. PPG: 33.6

Def. PYPG: 207.2

Def. RYPG: 259.5

Def. TYPG: 466.7

Def. 3rd Down %: 46.9%

Sacks: 17.0

Interceptions: 5

Turnover Margin: -10

Keys to the Game

Build Some Confidence for a Struggling Defense

Injuries and lack of proven depth have combined to whittled away a once promising defensive unit. The key in this game is to regain some of that confidence that Jay Bateman’s guys had early in the season that can carry over into the final game of the season.

Defensive Line Needs to Show Up

This unit has been in a funk for most of the second half of the season and what better game for them to breakout than this one. If they can gain some momentum, it might parlay next week against NC State, where a bowl game will likely be on the line.

Capitalize on Red Zone Opportunities

The Tar Heels’ red zone offense has had their struggles, especially as of late, as they’ve scored just one touchdown in their last ten red zone trips. This is a chance to work out those issues and find creative ways to get the ball in the endzone, something they will have to do if they want to be playing football in December.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Matthew Flint (leg), Brandon Fritts (knee), Cam’Ron Kelly (knee), Patrice Rene (knee), Bryson Richardson (knee), Tre Shaw (lower body), Myles Wolfolk (upper body)

DOUBT- Jace Ruder (lower body)

QUEST- Trey Morrison (arm),

PROB- Marcus McKethan (lower body), Javonte Williams (ankle, upper body)

Projected Depth Chart

Tar Heels



# 7 Sam Howell, Fr.


#25 Javonte Williams, So. OR

# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.


# 2 Dyami Brown, So.


#15 Beau Corrales, Jr.


# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.


#84 Garrett Walston, Jr.


#67 Charlie Heck, Sr..


#75 Joshua Ezeudu, RFr. OR

#58 Nick Polino, Sr.


#68 Brian Anderson, So.


#73 Marcus McKethan, So. OR

#58 Nick Polino, Sr.


#74 Jordan Tucker, So.



#56 Tomari Fox, Fr. OR

#51 Raymond Vohasek, So.


#92 Aaron Crawford, Sr.


#55 Jason Strowbridge, Sr.


#12 Tomon Fox, Jr.


#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, So.


#21 Chazz Surratt, Jr.


#3 Dominique Ross, Sr.


#29 Storm Duck, Fr.


# 1 Myles Dorn, Sr.


#13 Don Chapman, Fr.


#15 DeAndre Hollins, RFr.

Special Teams


#97 Noah Ruggles, So.


#95 Jonathan Kim, Fr.


#91 Ben Kiernan, Fr.


#61 Drew Little, Fr. (P)

#60 Trevor Collins, Jr. (K)


#96 Cooper Graham, So.


# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.


# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.

Senior Day Honorees

#1 Myles Dorn

#3 Dominique Ross

#5 Patrice Rene (expected to return)

#9 Corey Bell Jr.

#10 Greg Ross Jr.

#14 Jake Lawler

#24 Antonio Williams

#33 Allen Cater

#39 Graham Eklund

#42 Nick Quigley

#43 Hunter Sheridan

#55 Jason Strowbridge

#58 Nick Polino

#78 Layton Barber

#80 Jake Bargas

#82 Brandon Fritts

#86 Carl Tucker

#90 Michael Rubino

#91 Nolan DeFranco

#92 Aaron Crawford

Visitors List


4✮ WDE Desmond Evans- Lee County (Sanford, NC)

4✮ OLB Trenton Simpson- Mallard Creek (Charlotte, NC)

4✮ SDE Myles Murphy- Dudley (Greensboro, NC)

4✮ DT Kedrick Bingley-Jones- Providence Day (Charlotte, NC)

4✮ S Cameron Roseman-Sinclair- Myers Park (Charlotte, NC)

4✮ S Ja’Qurious Conley- Northside-Jacksonville (Jacksonville, NC)

3✮ WR Ray Rose- South Point (Belmont, NC)

3✮ ILB Ethan West- Cosby (Midlothian, VA)

3✮ OG Jonathan Adorno- Rolesville (Rolesville, NC)

3✮ RB D.J. Jones- Pine Forest (Fayetteville, NC)

3✮ TE Jefferson Boaz- East Surry (Pilot Mountain, NC)

3✮ ATH Cedric Gray- Ardrey Kell (Charlotte, NC)

3✮ WR Stephen Gosnell- East Surry (Pilot Mountain, NC)

3✮ OG Malik McGowan- Charlotte Catholic (Charlotte, NC)

3✮ CB Jayden Chalmers- Lee County (Sanford, NC)

3✮ RB Elijah Burris- Mountain Island Charter (Mount Holly, NC)

UR RB Kaleb Cheek- Asheboro (Asheboro, NC)

UR LS Colby Garfield- North Davidson (Lexington, NC)

UR TE Kadeem Leonard- Fairmont (Fairmont, NC)


4✮ S Dontavius Nash- Hunter Huss (Gastonia, NC)

UR ATH Jalen Galloway- Reidsville (Reidsville, NC)

UR WDE Jacob Katona- Oak Mountain (Birmingham, AL)

UR ATH Dawnya Washington- Evangelical Christian (Fort Myers, FL)

UR K Will Fowler- Spartanburg (Spartanburg, SC)


UR PRO Grantt Logan- Thomas Jefferson Academy (Mooresboro, NC)

UR TE Benji Gosnell- East Surry (Pilot Mountain, NC)


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