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Heel Tough Blog: Syracuse Preview

After an offseason that could not have been scripted by even the best of writers, the Tar Heels have made it to the other side of the tunnel. Although there will only be corrugated cardboard cutouts filling the stands, the Tar Heels will hope to open the season with a win on home turf to begin the season. Although the team’s first opponent, the Syracuse Orange, wasn’t added to the Tar Heels schedule until July 29th, there are big expectations for the team in this game just as there are for the entirety of this 2020 season, the second since the return of Mack Brown.In one of the most unorthodox seasons of college football in it storied history, the Tar Heels will look to put the nation on notice out of the gate.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels return one of the most experienced teams that they’ve had in recent memory, led by an offense that returns all but one starter from a year ago. Mack Brown and the staff has been tough on the offense this fall, but with the expectations as high as they are for this unit, there is a reason why. The man with the biggest expectations heading into the season is sophomore quarterback Sam Howell, who comes off of a remarkable freshman season and is receiving major recognition from the media in the preseason. He’ll combine in the backfield with senior Michael Carter and junior Javonte Williams, the prior of which rushed for more than 1,000 yards and both of whom finished with 1,000 yards of total offense. At wide receiver, the Tar Heel return the first 1,000 yard wide receiver duo in the program’s history, as both senior Dazz Newsome and junior Dyami Brown are back after amazing year one’s in Phil Longo’s system. At tight end, Garrett Walston returns, but he must improve on his number from a year ago for a unit that didn’t see anyone hit the ten catch or 100 yard receiving mark. The offensive line has the tough task of replacing anchor Charlie Heck at left tackle, but redshirt freshman Asim Richards looks ready to slide into the spot while the rest of the starting unit is in good shape headlined by the trio of Marcus McKethan, Joshua Ezeudu and Jordan Tucker. The biggest concern for this Tar Heel offense will be depth, especially at tight end and on the offensive line.

First time maybe since Butch Davis was roaming the sidelines in Chapel Hill, the excitement around this Tar Heel defense might just exceed that of the teams offense. Second team preseason All-American Chazz Surratt leads the group as part of a linebacking corps that has suddenly established solid depth. He combines with junior Jeremiah Gemmel, who started every game next to him on the inside, and sophomore Eugene Asante, who has had a huge fall camp that will make him tough to keep playing from. At outside linebacker, the senior trio of Tomon Fox and Tyrone Hopper are promising and the depth is talented here. The secondary has seen some recent attrition, but it is still in great shape thanks to the return of Myles Wolfolk and Patrice Rene from injuries and the emergence of guys like Don Chapman, Storm Duck and Kyler McMichael. The defensive line is the biggest question mark, but there is plenty of optimism coming off fall camp about the group with names like Raymond Vohask, Jahlil Taylor and Tomari Fox looking promising so far.

Special teams might be the most concerning major unit on this team, but it’s still not in terrible shape. The kicking job is still up in the air and needs to be figured out quickly, but the punter position is in good shape thanks to sophomore Ben Kiernan. The long snapper and holder spots are locked down once again, as all three starters return. The return and coverage units need to be better, but the additional speed and talent should help them.


After severely underachieving a year ago, this Syracuse team will be looking to prove doubters wrong in what they are hoping will be a bounce back season. Junior Tommy Devitto had a solid season through the air a year ago, but his offensive line did him no favors a year ago. The unit has to do a better job of keeping the quarterback upright, but will have to do it while returning just one starter from a season ago. Devitto will also have to find help around him, as a majority of the offensive production is gone from a year ago. The team must replace leading receiver Trishton Jackson and it’s top three rushers, Moe Neal, Abdul Adams and Jarveon Howard, the final two of which have opted out of the season. Junior Taj Harris will lead the wide receiving group after putting together a nice sophomore campaign last season, but the Orange will be looking for some more contributors to emerge from a group that is relatively inexperienced. At running back, redshirt freshman Jawhar Jordan and junior Markenzy Pierre are not tasked with providing some sort of success for a rushing attack that was mediocre last year. Senior tight end Aaron Hackett’s return is the only proven help that Devitto will really have.

Defensively, the Orange will be looking for some major improvement from a unit that was just pummeled a year ago. New defensive coordinator has a tough task ahead of him, especially with a lot of freshman flavor in the two deep. The secondary has a lot of promise with guys like Andre Cisco and Trill Williams heading it up, but there is plenty of room for improvement for a unit that allowed 262.5 yards per game through the air a year ago. The defensive line must replace Kendell Coleman and Alton Robinson, so they need Josh Black and McKinley Williams to really step up this season. The linebacking corps will be extremely young, something that is not a recipe for improving a run defense that was simply atrocious a year ago. Two of the three projected starters have yet to play any significant reps on defense and the leader of the group, Mikel Jones, now has to become the leader of the group.

The special teams unit was one of the strengths of the team ago and could be so again in 2020. Junior Andre Szmyt returns after another fantastic season a year ago and senior Nyheim Johnson will handle the punt and kick return duties. The trouble here will come at punter, where Sterling Hofrichter must be replaced after a great career with the team.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 33.1 (T-30th)

Off. PYPG: 285.8 (25th)

Off. RYPG: 188.2 (38th)

Off. TYPG: 474.0 (12th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 41.4% (47th)

Def. PPG: 23.7 (44th)

Def. PYPG: 229.6 (71st)

Def. RYPG: 143.5 (51st)

Def. TYPG: 373.1 (49th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 37.2% (46th)

Sacks: 31 (T-46th)

Interceptions: 14 (T-17th)

Turnover Margin: +8


Off. PPG: 28.3 (69th)

Off. PYPG: 240.6 (60th)

Off. RYPG: 154.0 (71st)

Off. TYPG: 394.6 (71st)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.0 (88th)

Def. PPG: 30.7 (T-88th)

Def. PYPG: 262.5 (110th)

Def. RYPG: 201.6 (109th)

Def. TYPG: 464.1 (115th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 42.7 (101st)

Sacks: 30 (T-52nd)

Interceptions: 13 (T-25th)

Turnover Margin: +9 (T-14th)

Keys To The Game

Get Settled Into The Strange Environment as Quickly as Possible

There is no denying the fact that get adjusted to a stadium with no fans and artificial crowd noise can take a little getting used to. The biggest thing for the Tar Heels is to make sure that they can adjust to the situation in a timely manner. It’s going to be an awkward situation for everyone, including the Orange, so it’s really just about how fast you can settle in.

Get to Tommy Devitto

The Orange’s struggles to protect Devitto a year ago are well known and the offensive line enters 2020 as a work in progress. The Tar Heels have to be able to take advantage of that with guys like Tomon Fox and Raymond Vohasek and make it a long day for the junior quarterback.

Keep Sam Howell Upright

This was one of the biggest things that hindered the offense a year ago and they have to be able to keep him on his feet to make the deep throws that became such a big part of this offense late in the season. In close games a year ago, this team struggled to protect Howell, but they have to be better, especially on the interior in these close games.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- DT Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), S D.J. Ford (opt out), S Javon Terry (opt out), CB Bryce Watts (opt out)


OUT- RB Abdul Adams (opt out), OL Dakota Davis (undisclosed), DL Cooper Dawson (opt out), RB Jarveon Howard (opt out), LB Tyrell Richards (opt out)

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

END #56 Tomari Fox, So.

NOSE #51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE #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 #29 Storm Duck, So.

FS # 2 Don Chapman, So.

SS #11 Myles Wolfolk, Sr.

CB # 1 Kyler McMichael, So. OR # 5 Patrice Rene, Sr.

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.

Syracuse Offense

QB #13 Tommy DeVito, Jr.

RB #25 Jawhar Jordan, RFr.

WR # 3 Taj Harris, Jr.

WR #14 Anthony Queeley, So.

WR # 4 Nykeim Johnson, Sr.

TE #89 Aaron Hackett, Sr.

LT #68 Airon Servais, Sr.

LG # 5 Chris Elmore, Sr.

C #52 Carlos Vettorello, So.

RG #56 Darius Tisdale, Jr.

RT #60 Matthew Bergeron, So. Defense

DE #85 Josh Black, Sr.

DT # 0 McKinley Williams, Sr.

DE # 9 Kingsley Jonathan, Sr.

WLB #13 Mikel Jones, So.

MLB #31 Geoff Cantin-Arku, So.

SLB #27 Stefon Thompson, Fr.

CB #14 Garrett Williams, RFr.

BS #34 Eric Coley, Jr.

ROV # 7 Andre Cisco, Jr.

FS # 6 Trill Williams, Jr.

CB # 2 Ifeatu Melifonwu, Jr. Special Teams

K #91 Andre Szmyt, Jr.

P #92 Nolan Cooney, Sr.

KOS #91 Andre Szmyt, Jr.

LS #50 Aaron Bolinsky, Jr.

H #92 Nolan Cooney, Sr.

KR # 4 Nykeim Johnson, Sr.

PR # 4 Nykeim Johnson, Sr.

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