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Heel Tough Blog: South Carolina Preview

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We have made it! After a phenomenal offseason for Tar Heel football, the team begins what might be the most anticipated season of football in Chapel Hill since the late 90’s . That Tar Heels will be looking for their first win against an FBS to open the season since 2000 and their first against an FBS since 1997 against the South Carolina Gamecocks. Can the Heels avenge their only regular season loss of the 2015 season?

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Heels underwent massive staff overhaul this offseason and will have two new systems in place on both sides of the football, something that is never easy to face in a season opener, let alone against an opponent like South Carolina. The Heels will have the benefit of a veteran corps of proven running backs led by Javonte Williams and Michael Carter that will lead the way for Phil Longo’s offense. The wide receiving corps is young, but there are plenty of talented options that have emerged as training camp has progressed and some trusted options at tight end won’t hurt either. The interior offensive line is up in the air as the Tar Heels enter the season, but returning tackle Charlie Heck and center/guard Nick Polino is comforting. The Tar Heels must find a solution at the right guard spot and hope that new starters at left guard and right tackle can be as consistent as the guys who left those spots up for grabs. Quarterback will the x-factor for this Tar Heel offense in 2019, though, especially after the struggles the team has had finding Mitch Trubisky’s replacement since the 2016 season. True freshman Sam Howell fits the bill as the guy to do just that, boasting the talent and confidence to get the job done. However, being the first ever true freshman to start a season opener for the Tar Heels won’t be an easy task for the high school record-setting quarterback.The defense will look to help out the young offense, something that it was never really able to do under Larry Fedora. The defense is definitely the more experienced of the two position groups, but also has less depth than the offense. The defensive line will lead the unit, with three potential NFL-bound players leading the way. Aaron Crawford is back to full health in the middle, while Jason Strowbridge and Tomon Fox are both playing positions that should allow them to be more successful than in seasons past. The depth that has developed throughout the offseason is helpful, as well and clearly makes this the strongest unit on the team. The secondary is in good shape on the surface with four of the five major positions returning players with starting experience led by corner Patrice Rene and safety Myles Dorn. The concern in the secondary is the lack of depth, especially at safety, where Tar Heels are a few injuries away from having to start a walk-on. The linebacker positions aren’t all that much better depthwise, but has seen some players step up in the fall to give the staff a little more confidence heading into the season. The talent here isn’t as strong, in large part because most of the outside linebackers will be playing a new position this season. Dominique Ross is really the only sure thing at linebacker so others must emerge quickly.The Tar Heels special teams unit is undergoing a bit of a rebuild, with the return game once again being the strength of the unit. The kicking and punting games have some upside, but there has also been a lot of concerns around these two positions throughout the offseason, the latter of which has been eased a bit since Ben Kiernan arrived in the fall to handle those duties. 

South Carolina

The Gamecocks start 2019’s gauntlet of a schedule against the Tar Heels with a relatively veteran team. It starts at quarterback where Jake Bentley returns for his senior season after stepping up in the offseason to beat out a talented true freshman quarterback in the spring. Around him will be a loaded backfield, led three of the top four rushers from a year ago returning and the addition of Clemson transfer Tavien Feaster. Losing Deebo Samuel is a big blow at wide receiver, but some valuable options return for Bentley. Like the Heels, the interior of the offensive line will be the biggest area of concern for a South Carolina offensive line that returns three starters, headlined by guard Donnell Stanley.Everyone’s focus when it comes to this 2019 South Carolina defense is up front with future NFL Draft stud Javon Kinlaw, who dominated in the middle of the Gamecock defense a year ago. Pair that with the return of D.J. Wonnum from an injury and extremely talented depth options and you can see why this group is dangerous. Linebacker sees two of the three starters return including T.J. Brunson in the middle of the defense. The secondary has to replace three starters, but has a standout in corner Jaycee Horn and size with two projected starters being 6’0 or taller.The special teams unit looks to be in good shape kicking wise, but replacing the dynamic Samuel as a returner will be a difficult task.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 27.4 (78th)

Off. PYPG: 249.1 (48th)

Off. RYPG: 193.0 (44th)

Off. TYPG: 442.1 (31st)

Off. 3rd Down %: 34.5% (112th)

Def. PPG: 34.5 (106th)

Def. PYPG: 228.8 (64th)

Def. RYPG: 218.8 (111th)

Def. TYPG: 447.6 (105th)

Sacks: 32.0 (T-41st)

Interceptions: 7 (T-102nd)

Turnover Margin: -6 (112th)

Offensive Efficiency: 44.9 (81st)

Defensive Efficiency: 39.6 (95th)

Special Teams Efficiency: 58.1 (29th)

Overall Team Efficiency: 42.1 (88th)

South Carolina

Off. PPG: 30.1 (57th)

Off. PYPG: 272.8 (26th)

Off. RYPG: 152.8 (92nd)

Off. TYPG: 425.6 (43rd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 41.7% (46th)

Def. PPG: 27.2 (67th)

Def. PYPG: 229.0 (65th)

Def. RYPG: 195.3 (95th)

Def. TYPG: 424.3 (84th)

Sacks: 26.0 (T-69th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-112th)

Turnover Margin: -5 (101st)

Offensive Efficiency: 71.2 (21st)

Defensive Efficiency: 56.3 (58th)

Special Teams Efficiency: 57.4 (31st)

Overall Team Efficiency: 67.9 (31st)

Keys To The Game

Get Pressure on Jake Bentley

Bentley struggled under pressure during the 2018 season and the fact that he has thrown 30 interceptions in his career shows he can get rattled at times. Last year was a huge step in the right direction for this Tar Heel defensive line and with the group fully healthy and growing deeper, there are some big expectations for this unit. Against an offensive line that is replacing two starters and allowed 20 sacks a year ago, the Tar Heels defensive line needs get after Bentley and force him into some rushed decisions on Saturday.

Get Off the Field on Third Downs

This has been an area of trouble for the Tar Heels in each of the last two seasons, highlighted by last 43.5% conversion rate for opposing teams on third down. The Tar Heels defense has received a lot of praise for their improvements on the field this season, so it’s important that they find a way to get off the field on third down, especially on 3rd and medium or 3rd and long, an area that the Tar Heels really struggle in a year ago. Doing that against an offense as efficient as South Carolina was a year ago is extremely important.

Take Care of the Football

Last year, the Tar Heels turnover margin ranked 112th in the nation and was one of the main reasons the team struggled to win close games. With another young team and true freshman starting for the first time in program history, it is important to take care of the football if the Tar Heels want to win this game.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Brandon Fritts (knee), Bryson Richardson (knee)PROB- Tyrone Hopper (undisclosed), British Brooks (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, Fr.

RB#25 Javonte Williams, So. OR# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.

WR# 2 Dyami Brown, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, So.

WR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.

TE#86 Carl Tucker, Sr.

LT#67 Charlie Heck, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, RFr.

C#58 Nick Polino, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, So.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, So. Defense

DE#51 Raymond Vohasek, So. OR#56 Tomari Fox, Fr.

NG#92 Aaron Crawford, Sr.

DT#55 Jason Strowbridge, Sr.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, So.

ILB#21 Chazz Surratt, Jr.

OLB#33 Allen Cater, Sr. OR#42 Tyrone Hopper, Jr.

CB#10 Greg Ross, Jr.

FS# 1 Myles Dorn, Sr.

SS#11 Myles Wolfolk, Jr.

CB# 4 Trey Morrison, So.

NB#16 D.J. Ford, Jr. OR# 4 Trey Morrison, So. OR#15 DeAndre Hollins, RFr. Special Teams

K#97 Noah Ruggles, So.

KOS#90 Michael Rubino, Sr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Fr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Fr. (K)#60 Trevor Collins, Jr. (P)

H#96 Cooper Graham, So.

KR# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.

PR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.

South Carolina Offense

QB#19 Jake Bentley, Sr.

RB# 5 Rico Dowdle, Sr. OR# 4 Tavien Feaster, Sr. OR#34 Mon Denson, Sr.

WR#89 Bryan Edwards, Sr.

WR# 6 Josh Vann, So.

WR#13 Shi Smith, Jr.

TE#84 Kyle Markway, Jr.

LT#50 Sadarius Hutcherson, Jr.

LG#72 Donnell Stanley, Sr.

C#70 Hank Manos, RFr.

RG#71 Eric Douglas, So. OR#54 Jovaughn Gwyn, RFr.

RT#79 Dylan Wonnum, So. Defense

DE#15 Aaron Sterling, Jr.

DT# 3 Javon Kinlaw, Sr.

DT#95 Kobe Smith, Sr. OR# 5 Keir Thomas, Sr.

BUCK# 8 D.J. Wonnum, Sr.

WLB# 6 T.J. Brunson, Sr.

MLB#53 Ernest Jones, So.

SLB#44 Sherrod Greene, Jr. OR#40 Jahmar Brown, Fr.

CB# 1 Jaycee Horn, So.

S#21 Jamyest Williams, Jr.

S#29 J.T. Ibe, Sr.

CB#24 Israel Mukuamu, So.

NB# 7 Jammie Robinson, Fr. Special Teams

K#43 Parker White, Jr.

P#20 Joseph Charlton, Sr.

LS#39 Matt Oliveria, Sr.

H#20 Joseph Charlton, Sr.

KR#25 A.J. Turner, Sr.

PR#89 Bryan Edwards, Sr.

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