The Heels return to Kenan Stadium tonight as they play host to Pittsburgh in a critical ACC Coastal contest. Carolina is coming off their bye week from a week ago, and with the Panthers losing at Louisville, the Heels now have a 2 game lead in the loss column on all Coastal teams. The Tar Heels currently sit at 6-1 and are led by QB Drake Maye who has entered the Heisman conversation with his record-setting start to his college football career. Upon joining the ACC, Pittsburgh never beat UNC when Larry Fedora was in Chapel Hill, but since Mack Brown returned to lead the Tar Heels, Pitt has won both matchups, with both wins coming in overtime, and in Pittsburgh.
Pitt enters with a pedestrian 4-3 (1-2 in ACC) record this season, as injuries to transfer QB Kedon Slovis have really dampened their hopes of building off last season’s conference championship. While Slovis has just a 5 touchdown to 5 interception ratio, their offense is led by tailback Israel Abanikanda, whom Mack Brown called the best running back in the country earlier this week. Abanikanda has rushed for 959 yards, and 13 touchdowns, averaging 6.1 yards per carry. The loss of Jordan Addison to USC has hurt their passing attack, but Jared Wayne has made the most of their opportunities, catching 25 passes for over 400 yards and one score. Even though Pat Narduzzi is a defensive-minded coach, the Panthers have struggled on that side of the ball this season, allowing nearly 26 points per game, and giving up over 330 yards of total offense.
Carolina enters tonight’s matchup ranked 21st in the country and is in control of their own destiny to make it to the ACC Championship game, despite a defense that has shown no improvement from what we saw last season under Jay Bateman and an inconsistent run game. Tonight offers the program a chance to validate its ranking, and quiet the critics that exist around the ACC and nationally. Here’s how they improve to 7-1:
Contain Abanikanda: It would be impossible for us to ask this defense which allows almost 190 yards rushing per game, to slow Abanikanda down for an entire 60 minutes, so therefore they need to contain him. Earlier this month, he ran for over 300 yards in a win over Virginia Tech, Carolina can’t let that happen tonight or there will be a stream of unhappy Tar Heel fans leaving Kenan Stadium late tonight.
Protect the Football: With Pitt allowing a lot of points, that means they thrive on taking the football away to help their offense. Drake Maye has been a little loose with the ball in recent games against Miami and Duke, which is a reason why those games were closer than they should’ve been altogether. If Carolina gives a Pitt offense that struggles to consistently put drives on a short field, it can keep the Panthers around a lot later than they probably should be.
Convert on 3rd Down: This offense is a big-play offense, but a way they can help out a maligned defense, is to convert on third down. It’s a hard thing to ask when Carolina's offense is so successful on first and second down, but this time of the year is when situational football really starts to matter. Pitt is already going to try and shorten the game with their running game, meaning Drake Maye will need to make the most of his opportunities as this figures to be another shootout.
TV Info: Tonight’s important ACC matchup will kick off at 8 PM on the ACC Network.