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Heel Tough Blog: Wake Forest Preview

Scott Taetsch- USA Today Sports

Saturday, the Tar Heels will have the chance to claim their first ACC Coastal division title since 2015. Just as they had to do in that campaign, they will have the chance to clinch it on the road in a place where they have not had a ton of success historically. Then it was Virginia Tech and on Saturday it will be Wake Forest, a place where Carolina has lost three straight. Will the Tar Heels' success on the road and in close games be enough in what will be their toughest test of the season so far?

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels have won five straight games now and each of the last three have come in come-from-behind fashion. The Tar Heel offense has put together some amazing second halves during that stretch, which have been headmanned by Heisman hopeful Drake Maye. Maye sits atop the country in passing touchdowns, total touchdowns, total offense and total yards per game and has been particularly productive in the second half of games when this team has needed him to put them on his back. At wide receiver, Josh Downs has been a steady force the entire season, especially against single coverage, and he is entering this game off his best performance of the season. Antoine Green and J.J. Jones have had big seasons themselves on the outside and Green has shown at times this season that he is much more than that. The tight ends have been a bit quiet in recent weeks, but it is a group that has shown they are capable of being contributors to this passing game if needed. The backfield has never really found stability this entire season due to some on-field ebbs and flows and injury issues, but Saturday showed they might have something in Elijah Green. The team needs someone to emerge as a consistent presence in the backfield to take the pressure off of Drake Maye, who had led the team in rushing four of the previous five weeks prior to the trip to Virginia. The Tar Heel offensive line is far from the best unit in the country, but they have taken a massive step from a season ago anchored by left tackle Asim Richards, who is still having an All-ACC type season after some fits last week.

Defensively, this team has taken a step in conference play, but there are still a lot of flaws that are being worked out. The defensive line had its best half of the season in that second half against Pittsburgh, but looked the part of an injury-ladened group in Charlottesville. The team needs to find more consistency in the guys that remain, starting in the middle where they were simply overpowered a week ago. The hope is that Kaimon Rucker can also return to being the force that he was against Pittsburgh before suffering the injury that had him questionable for most of last week. The secondary hasn’t been much more successful at finding consistency, primarily at the safety position. Storm Duck has really found a groove over the past couple of weeks after a rough start to the season and Tony Grimes has been serviceable opposite of him. At linebacker, Power Echols will hope to bounce back from his worst performance of the season last weekend alongside Cedric Gray, who might be the most consistent part of this defense. The problem that this unit has right now is that, just like last year, they simply have too much on their plate because of the issue that the team has in front and behind them.

The special teams unit has had a really strong season to this point. Ben Kiernan has been one of the best punters in the entire country and Noah Burnette has been productive, including at kickoff specialist where he had to take over midseason. Josh Downs is entering off his best game of the season as the team’s punt returner and George Pettaway provided some flashes against Virginia as a kick returner. The coverage units are probably the weakest area, but they have still had a solid season to this point.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons enter this game having lost back-to-back games in large part due to turnover issues. They have turned the ball over a combined eleven times in the last two games, including six in a single quarter against Louisville. Quarterback Sam Hartman is looking to bounce back after two subpar performance in a row and there is reason to believe he will with how much success he has had against the Tar Heels in the last two matchups. He has arguably the best receiving corps that the Tar Heels will face this season at his disposal led by four receivers who have over 400 yards receiving so far this year. A.T. Perry has been a matchup nightmare for teams all season and could cause this defense issues if they aren’t careful and Jahmal Banks is a redzone threat that they have to be prepared. Tight end Blake Whitehart will be one to watch as well with the Tar Heels struggles to take away tight ends at times this season. The running game hasn’t been nearly as productive as they have in years past, but Justice Ellison and Christian Turner have the capability to hurt teams who aren’t careful. The biggest weakness of this Wake Forest offense is the offensive line that ranks outside of the top 90 in the country in both tackles for loss and sacks allowed.

On the defensive side of the football, there has been improvement, but this is still a group that is far from flawless. The secondary is certainly attackable with two players having given up of over 380 yards receiving and three having given up four or more touchdowns. The good news for that unit is that the defensive line has had a really nice year led by Rondell Bothroyd on the edge and Kobie Turner on the interior. The depth along the line is another thing that has improved from a year ago and will make a little bit more challenging for a Tar Heel offensive line that has had their fits with handling pressure at times these last few weeks. Ryan Smenda Jr. and Chase Jones have had very solid seasons at linebacker and they are more than capable when dropping into coverage.

The Demon Deacons possess special teams have been extremely solid to this point. Kicker Matthew Dennis has been reliable so far this season in his first as a starter and the return games have held their own so far this season. Punter Ivan Mora has been the weak point of the group, but has still had a decent season to this point.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 40.6 (9th)

Off. PYPG: 329.8 (6th)

Off. RYPG: 167.0 (55th)

Off. TYPG: 496.8 (8th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 50.0 (T-11th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 52.0 (T-75th)

Sacks Allowed: 23.0 (T-86th)

Def. PPG: 31.0 (106th)

Def. PYPG: 277.6 (120th)

Def. RYPG: 180.1 (104th)

Def. TYPG: 457.7 (122nd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 42.7 (T-107th)

Tackles for A Loss: 36.0 (T-126th)

Sacks: 14.0 (T-106th)

Interceptions: 6 (T-84th)

Turnover Margin: 1 (T-61st)

Penalties Per Game: 6.8 (T-86th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 59.2 (85th)

Wake Forest

Off. PPG: 36.9 (19th)

Off. PYPG: 308.6 (14th)

Off. RYPG: 123.3 (104th)

Off. TYPG: 431.9 (39th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 46.5% (27th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 57.0 (92nd)

Sacks Allowed: 28.0 (T-109th)

Def. PPG: 27.3 (T-77th)

Def. PYPG: 230.9 (T-69th)

Def. RYPG: 142.0 (64th)

Def. TYPG: 372.9 (64th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.0 (67th)

Tackles for A Loss: 61.0 (T-25th)

Sacks: 20.0 (T-68th)

Interceptions: 5 (T-101st)

Turnover Margin: -3 (T-87th)

Penalties Per Game: 4.8 (T-18th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 41.7 (16th)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Sebastian Cheeks (upper body), Ja’Qurious Conley (lower body), Des Evans (upper body), Caleb Hood (upper body), Jahlil Taylor (lower body), Noah Taylor (lower body), Raymond Vohasek (upper body)

QUEST- Bryson Nesbit (upper body)

Wake Forest

OUT- Nick Anderson (undisclosed), Coby Davis (undisclosed), Horatio Fields (knee), Eldrick Robinson II (undisclosed), Jacob Zuhr (undisclosed)

QUEST- Rondell Bothroyd (undisclosed)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#21 Elijah Green, So.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. Defense

NOSE#98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

JACK#17 Chris Collins, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB# 1 Tony Girmes, Jr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#98 Noah Burnette, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LSK- #62 Spencer Triplett, So. P- #61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, Jr.

Wake Forest Offense

QB#10 Sam Hartman, Jr.

RB# 6 Justice Ellison, So.

WR#11 Donovan Greene, Jr.

WR# 9 A.T. Perry, Jr.

WR-SL# 2 Taylor Morin, So.

TE#85 Blake Whitehart, Jr.

LT#53 Je’Vionte Nash, Sr.

LG#79 Sean Maginn , Sr.

C#55 Michael Jurgens, Jr.

RG#59 Loic Ngassam Nya, Sr.

RT#62 DeVonte Gordon, So. Defense

DE#40 Rondell Bothroyd, Jr.

DT# 0 Kobie Turner, Sr. OR #95 Dion Bergan Jr.,Sr.

DT#72 Tyler Williams, Sr.

DE# 4 Jacorey Johns, Jr.

LB#21 Chase Jones, Jr.

LB# 5 Ryan Smenda Jr., Sr.

CB# 1 Caelen Carson, So.

S# 9 Chelen Garnes, Jr.

S# 3 Malik Mustapha, So.

CB# 8 Isaiah Wingfield, Sr.

NB#14 Evan Slocum, So. Special Teams

PK#99 Matthew Dennis, RFr.

KO#99 Matthew Dennis, RFr.

P#36 Ivan Mora, So.

LS#32 Will Cobb, RFr.

H#88 Zach Murphy, Sr.

KR#13 Ke’Shawn Williams, So.

PR# 2 Taylor Morin, So.

Game Information

Location: Truist Field, Winston-Salem, NC

Time: 7:30 PM


Radio: Tar Heels Sports Network (check local affiliates)


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