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Heel Tough Blog: NC State Preview

The Tar Heels are coming off their first loss of the 2020 season this past Saturday night against Florida State and will look to get things turned back in the right direction this Saturday to keep themselves in the ACC Championship hunt. The opponent that stands in the way should provide extra motivation to get back in the win column this weekend, as the No. 23 NC State Wolfpack travel to Kenan Stadium. The Tar Heels have a lot of different things that they have to get cleaned up and they’ll have the chance to do that while extending Mack Brown’s win over the Wolfpack.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels are still searching for some consistency throughout the team, but the good news is that the offense has seemed to settle into a groove here over the past few games. It all starts on the ground with the combination of Michael Carter and Javonte Williams, both of whom are well on their way to another season with 1,000 or more yards of total offense. The tandem enters Saturday’s game averaging 307.0 yards of total offense between the two per game, which accounts for 59.1% of the Tar Heels total offense this season. Quarterback Sam Howell has had two strong performances after struggling a bit in the first two games of the season, throwing three touchdown passes in each of his last two games and nearly completing the comeback against the Seminoles despite being pressured most of the night. The receiving corps hasn’t been nearly as effective as it was the second half of last season and the drop problems are still something that needs to be cleaned up. Beau Corrales is coming off of a career performance, though, and both Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome have shown they have the capability to have a big game when the team needs them to step up. Consistency and the ability to create quick separation off the line of scrimmage is the most important thing for this group to find as the season goes along. Garrett Walston has also shown some nice signs of being able to contribute to the passing game and has combined with Kamari Morales to provide plenty of help in run blocking for the offensive line. After a major step forward against Virginia Tech, the offensive line unit took a gigantic step in the wrong direction on Saturday, as they were dominated by a Florida State defensive line group that came in as one of the biggest underperforming units in all of college football. The group as a whole has really had issues giving Howell time to throw, but especially on the left side of that offensive line, where new left tackle Asim Richards is going through some growing pains. The line has made some nice progress in run blocking scenarios, but in order to open up the deep passing game that made the offense so successful late last season, the group has been better in pass protection.

The Tar Heel defense has been a shadow of what it was in the first two games of the past two weeks, as the group has been gashed by each of their last two opponents. The team has really struggled to tackle in space, especially the safeties, Don Chapman and Cam’Ron Kelly. The duo has also been caught with their eyes in the backfield far too often the past couple of the weeks, as well, which has led to some big plays for opposing offenses. The corners are still holding their own even with Storm Duck out of the lineup for the foreseeable future. Kyler McMichael and Patrice Rene have played well the past two weeks and might be the most positive aspect of this defense right now. The Tar Heels linebacking duo of Chazz Surratt and Jeremiah Gemmel are still highly regarded and rightfully so, but they’ve missed some tackles themselves in the past couple of weeks, something that they must clean up for this defense to be successful. The first two games of the season were a pass rushing clinic from the Tar Heels, but the past two weeks, the unit has been able to pressure the quarterbacks as much as they would have liked. Part of it is because of the strong mobility that both teams' quarterbacks possess, but they also have to be able to keep mobile quarterbacks in the pocket more often than they’ve been able to recently. With a more traditional pocket passer this week, the defensive line should be able to get after the quarterback a little more consistently this weekend. Guys like Tomon and Tomari Fox have shown signs of breaking out, but they need to be more consistent and not have games where they are non-existent, something the group as a whole has to improve in, as well.

The Tar Heels’ special teams are currently a disaster and need to find some sort of stability quickly. Punter Ben Kiernan is the only stable asset in this unit, but he needs help from his protection unit that was simply abysmal on Saturday night. The return games, an area where Mack Brown was hoping to see marked improvements this season, have been silent since the Syracuse game. The biggest concern right now, though, is the place kicking spot, where Grayson Atkins has really struggled this season, leading to the wonder of whether or not we might see Noah Ruggles again soon. For the Tar Heels to get to where they want to be at the end of the season, this special teams unit needs to improve.

NC State

The Wolfpack are not quite the same team that the Tar Heels faced in Raleigh to close the season a year ago, especially offensively. Losing starting quarterback Devin Leary to a leg injury is a big blow, especially with him appearing to have settled himself into the starting role prior to leaving last week’s game, but Bailey Hockman, a former 4✮ recruit coming out of high school is more than capable of winning games. The Wolfpack running has a solid tandem of their own in the backfield that the Tar Heels will have to be able to slow down on Saturday in Zonovan Knight and Ricky Person Jr.. The Wolfpack receivers are led by Emeka Emezie, but their biggest receiving threat will be tight end Cary Angeline, who already has five touchdown receptions this season. The NC State offensive line is off to a solid start to the season, but like the rest of the ACC, it has been far from perfect.

Defensively, the numbers aren’t great, but there is still talent on the Wolfpack’s defense. The linebacking corps is the strongest unit on the team with Payton Wilson, Drake Thomas and Isaiah Moore all having productive starts to the season. The defensive line is nowhere near as talented as it has been in the past few years, but it’s still a solid unit, led by defensive tackle Alim McNeil. The secondary really struggled a year ago and is having their struggles again this season. Shyheim Battle is a player that is worth being weary of in the Wolfpack secondary, though.

For the first time in a while, the Wolfpack will hold the special teams advantage coming into the game. Punter Trenton Gill has shown off his strong leg so far this season and the punt return game has been productive so far this season. Christopher Dunn had a rough game against Virginia, but is off to a solid overall start to the season. The kick return unit hasn’t been great, but they have returned seven kicks so far this season.

Team Stats (rankings are amongst 77 FBS to play a game in 2020)

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 35.3 (24th)

Off. PYPG: 289.8 (19th)

Off. RYPG: 229.7 (11th)

Off. TYPG: 519.5 (9th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 42.6% (37th)

Def. PPG: 26.0 (30th)

Def. PYPG: 218.2 (29th)

Def. RYPG: 152.3 (39th)

Def. TYPG: 370.5 (29th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 37.1% (31st)

Sacks: 12.0 (T-19th)

Interceptions: 2 (T-49th)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-63rd)

NC State

Off. PPG: 33.6 (28th)

Off. PYPG: 241.6 (35th)

Off. RYPG: 151.4 (46th)

Off. TYPG: 393.0 (48th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.4% (T-55th)

Def. PPG: 31.4 (T-47th)

Def. PYPG: 268.2 (52nd)

Def. RYPG: 153.2 (40th)

Def. TYPG: 421.4 (47th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 31.1% (16th)

Sacks: 16.0 (T-5th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-7th)

Turnover Margin: +1 (T-24th)

Keys To The Game

Keep the Penalties to Minimum

This is always a game that sees a lot of extracurriculars and there should be plenty of those on Saturday. The Tar Heels have had some trouble with discipline so far this year and they will have to avoid costly penalties, especially personal foul penalties.

Win the Line of Scrimmage

The Tar Heel offensive and defensive lines have been inconsistent all season long, but the Wolfpack have boasted solid units in the trenches the past few years and this year is no different. For the Tar Heels to win this game, they will have to be able to control the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football.

Show Some Special Teams Improvement

The Tar Heel special teams unit has been an issue so far this season, but they need the unit to step on Saturday. The punt protection must show improvement from what we saw on Saturday and they will also need to show improved tackling on returns, something that has been a problem at times in the last year and half. However, the most important thing for this unit to do on Saturday is to connect on the field goal attempts that it sees, which they were unable to do this past week.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

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

QUEST- Ja’Qurious Conley (undisclosed)

PROB- Emery Simmons (undisclosed), Raymond Vohasek (undisclosed)

NC State

OUT- Rakiem Ashford (shoulder), Chris Ingram (undisclosed), Devin Leary (ankle)

QUEST- Khalid Martin (hip)

PROB- Treshaun Smith (undisclosed)

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

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.

NC State Offense

QB#16 Bailey Hockman, Jr.

RB# 8 Ricky Person Jr., Jr. OR # 7 Zonovan Knight, So.

WR#88 Devin Carter, So.

WR#86 Emeka Emezie, Sr.

WR# 5 Thayer Thomas, Jr.

TE# 6 Cary Angeline, Sr.

LT#79 Ikem Ekwonu, So.

LG#54 Dylan McMahon, RFr.

C#50 Grant Gibson, Jr.

RG#71 Joe Sculthorpe, Sr.

RT#56 Bryson Speas, Jr. Defense

LDE# 0 Terrell Dawkins, RFr.

NT#29 Alim McNeil, Jr.

RDE#28 Ibrahim Kante, Jr.

SAM#32 Drake Thomas, So.

MIKE# 1 Isaiah Moore, Jr.

WILL#11 Payton Wilson, So.

LCB#24 Malik Dunlap, So.

SS# 6 Jakeen Harris, So.

FS#10 Tanner Ingle, Jr.

RCB#25 Shyheim Battle, RFr.

NB#13 Tyler Baker-Williams, Jr. Special Teams

K#32 Christopher Dunn, Jr.

P#99 Trenton Gill, Jr.

KOS#32 Christopher Dunn, Jr.

LS#91 Joe Shimko, So.

H#99 Trenton Gill, Jr.

KR# 8 Ricky Person Jr., Jr.

PR# 5 Thayer Thomas, Jr.


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