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Heel Tough Blog: Wake Forest Preview

The Tar Heels will begin a key three game stretch that will end the 2020 ACC slate this weekend when they welcome in the Wake Forest Demon Deacons. The Tar Heels will be looking to avenge last year’s loss in Winston-Salem and keep themselves in the race for one of the two ACC Championship spots that are available. Mack Brown will also hope to avenge the loss last year that was his first against the Demon Deacons since 1989 and take home the “state title” in 2020.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

After a disappointing showing against Virginia, the team was able to bounce back on Saturday against Duke with a complete performance from the starting units in all three phases. The offense continues to be one of college football’s best, led by the running back duo of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. Williams has turned into one of college football’s most complete running backs and Carter is also having a season that ranks among some of the best in college football. Quarterback Sam Howell has been fantastic since a tough two game stretch to begin the season, throwing three or more touchdowns in four of the last five games. The receiving corps has grown deeper as the season has gone along, with Emery Simmons and Khafre Brown emerging after Beau Corrales injury. Dyami Brown has had another strong season, but Dazz Newsome just hasn’t been able to open this season with more focus on him, although he is coming off one of his best games of the season. The offensive line is still lacking consistency and Brian Anderson going down with an injury won’t help. The unit needs to find a way to keep Howell upright in these next three games and allow him to make the throws he needs to in these crucial games.

The Tar Heel defense has been extremely inconsistent over the past month, but the unit will have to step up and become a more stable unit for the next few weeks. This defense has seemed to go as Chazz Surratt has and the Tar Heels need him to piece together a strong three game stretch to close the season. Jeremiah Gemmel also needs to be able to put together a consistent stretch, especially in the final two games of the season when the teams will face mobile quarterbacks. The front four finally got some push up front on Saturday and did so with additional reps from Desmond Evans and Chris Collins on the edge. The secondary remains banged up, but has still held its own. Trey Morrison is the only starter that remains healthy from the season opener and he has made the move back to safety where he has thrived. Patrice Rene has led the group of replacements, picking up right where he left off in 2018 prior to his knee injury.

The special teams unit continues to remain a concern. Punter Ben Kiernan and kickoff specialist Jonathan Kim have had strong seasons so far and Dazz Newsome has put together a solid season as the primary punt returner. That’s where the success stops, though. Placekicker Grayson Atkins has been wildly inconsistent so far this season, struggling from beyond 35 for a majority of the season and kick returner Michael Carter has struggled to get anything going. The coverage units haven’t been tested often, but when they have, the results haven’t been great. This is a unit that just needs to avoid major mistakes that could cost the team down the stretch.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons had a rough start to the season against Clemson and NC State, but has recovered nicely since, winning four straight, including an upset of No. 19 Virginia Tech a few weeks ago. The Wake Forest offense is led by running back Kenneth Walker III, who is one of just ten running backs to have double-digit rushing touchdowns so far this season. Christian Beal-Smith has had a strong season behind him, as well, as he sits just 28 yards away from the 500 yard mark this season himself. The Demon Deacons passing game is nowhere near as deadly as it was a year ago, as they’ve only thrown five touchdown passes in their six games, but Sam Hartman still has a strong arm and he does a great job of taking care of the football. The receiving corps has some nice weapons in Jaquarri Roberson and Donovan Greene, but they are nowhere near as deadly as the unit last year that was led by Sage Surratt and Scotty Washington. The offensive line has been solid in run blocking situations all year, anchored by tackle Je’Vionte’ Nash, but has had similar issues that Tar Heels have had when it comes to protecting the quarterback.

The Wake Forest defense has had a solid season, but is a little vulnerable against the run. The linebacker duo of Jacquez Williams and Ryan Smenda Jr. will be tasked with slowing down the Tar Heels extremely successful running game this Saturday. It will help that they have a good defensive line in front of them. Carlos Basham Jr. is the standout from the group, as he is having another fantastic season as a pass rusher, but Old Dominion transfer Miles Fox and JaCorey Johns are having strong seasons of their own. On the back end, the secondary has let up some yards at times, but they have been a very optimistic unit this season, forcing eleven interceptions already this season. True freshman safety Nick Anderson has become the breakout star on this Wake Forest defense, as he sits second on the team in tackles and first in interceptions.

The Demon Deacons boast one of the most complete special teams units in the ACC this season. Placekicker Nick Sciba has been extremely reliable so far this season and Ivan Mora has had a nice season punting. Donovan Greene has been a problem for teams all season long and Taylor Morin has had a decent season as the teams punt returner, as well.

Team Stats (rankings are amongst 123 FBS teams to play a game in 2020)

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 40.9 (14th)

Off. PYPG: 298.4 (21st)

Off. RYPG: 239.5 (13th)

Off. TYPG: 537.9 (7th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 48.8% (22nd)

Def. PPG: 27.6 (58th)

Def. PYPG: 237.9 (66th)

Def. RYPG: 148.3 (55th)

Def. TYPG: 386.1 (47th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 36.7% (46th)

Sacks: 23.0 (8th)

Interceptions: 7 (T-19th)

Turnover Margin: +1 (T-46th)

Wake Forest

Off. PPG: 37.0 (25th)

Off. PYPG: 245.5 (T-52nd)

Off. RYPG: 175.3 (50th)

Off. TYPG: 420.8 (50th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 38.4% (T-77th)

Def. PPG: 24.8 (41st)

Def. PYPG: 229.7 (57th)

Def. RYPG: 180.3 (74th)

Def. TYPG: 410.0 (65th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 40.7% (65th)

Sacks: 13.0 (T-42nd)

Interceptions: 11 (T-2nd)

Turnover Margin: +14 (1st)

Keys To The Game

Take Care of the Football

Wake Forest is one of the best teams in the country at creating turnovers and they are even better at holding on to football so far this season. If the Tar Heels want to win this crucial matchup, they must be able to hold on to the football and not give the Demon Deacons unnecessary opportunities.

Run the Football Early

The Tar Heel run game has been the most consistent unit on the team this season and should be leaned on early again on Saturday. The Demon Deacons have struggled to stop the run in the first six games of the season and with the combination of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter running wild in the backfield, the Tar Heels should show the Deacons a steady dose of this duo.

Win the Line Of Scrimmage

The Tar Heels are coming off of a fantastic showing in the trenches this past Saturday against Duke and so far this season, the Tar Heels have followed most of their good performances with bad ones the next week. During this crucial three game streak to end the ACC schedule, the Tar Heels need to be able to win the line of scrimmage if they want to be able to win these important games. Keeping Sam Howell upright and getting after Sam Hartman, who is not a runner, will be important factors in this one on Saturday.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), Beau Corrales (upper body), Storm Duck (lower body), Ty Murray (undisclosed), Ethan West (undisclosed)

QUEST- Brian Anderson (undisclosed), Don Chapman (undisclosed), Kyler McMichael (undisclosed), Jordan Tucker (hand)

Wake Forest

OUT- Quintin Cooley (undisclosed), Terrance Davis (undisclosed)

PROB- A.T. Perry (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels OffenseQB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

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

WR# 2 Dyami Brown, Jr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, So. OR # 1 Khafre Brown, RFr.

WR# 5 Dazz Newsome, Sr.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr.

LT#72 Asim Richards, So.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, So.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Jr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Jr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Jr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

DT#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#15 Ladaeson Hollins, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, So.

CB# 5 Patrice Rene, Sr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

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.

Wake Forest OffenseQB#10 Sam Hartman, So.

RB# 9 Kenneth Walker III, So. OR #26 Christian Beal-Smith, Jr.

WR#89 A.T. Perry, So.

WR# 7 Donovan Greene, RFr.

WR# 5 Jaquarii Roberson, Jr.

TE#23 Brandon Chapman, Sr.

LT#50 Zach Tom, Jr.

LG#79 Sean Maggin, Jr.

C#55 Michael Jurgens, So.

RG#59 Loic Ngassam Nya, Jr.

RT#53 Je’Vionte’ Nash, Sr. Defense

DE# 9 Carlos Basham Jr., Sr.

DT# 1 Sulaiman Kamara, Sr.

DT#11 Miles Fox, Sr.

DE# 4 Jacorey Johns, So.

LB# 8 Ja’Cquez Williams, Sr.

LB# 5 Ryan Smenda Jr., Jr.

OLB#17 Traveon Reed, Sr.

CB# 6 Ja’Sir Taylor, Sr.

S#45 Nick Anderson, Fr.

S#18 Trey Rucker, So.

CB#29 Caelen Carson, Fr. Special Teams

K# 4 Nick Sciba, Jr.

P#96 Ivan Mora, RFr.

KOS# 4 Nick Sciba, Jr.

LS#90 Jacob Zuhr, Fr.

H#88 Zach Murphy, Jr.

KR# 7 Donovan Greene, RFr.

PR#83 Taylor Morin, RFr.


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