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Heel Tough Blog: Western Carolina Preview

Saturday, the Tar Heels will welcome in-state FCS opponent Western Carolina to Chapel Hill for the final home game of the 2020 season. The Tar Heels are looking to bounce back from a loss against Notre Dame in a game that many players felt they should have won. While honoring a special group of seniors, the Tar Heels will hope to flex some muscle on both sides of the ball and come away healthy as they head for an extremely important matchup with the Miami Hurricanes to finish the regular season.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heel offense sputtered a bit in the game against the Fighting Irish, but they are still one of the best offenses in program history, and the main reason this team has six wins. Quarterback Sam Howell has followed his remarkable true freshman season with another strong and efficient season and has added his running ability to make him a more complete threat, especially in the red zone. The group of receivers that he has been throwing to have remains one of the most complete in the country despite the loss of Beau Corrales to injury. Dyami Brown remains the most consistent member of the receiving corps and Dazz Newsome has recovered from a slow start and is playing his best football right now, while Khafre Brown and Emery Simmons have been significant contributors since Corrales’ injury. The strength of this offense, though, remains this running game that features the most dynamic duo in program history. Both Michael Carter and Javonte Williams have put together huge seasons and rank amongst the top running backs in college football in nearly every category. The offensive line remains the only concern on that side of the football, but the concerns lay more with consistency of the unit than anything. The group was simply overmatched against Notre Dame, but the group has usually recovered well after poor showings and this game is exactly what they need.

The defense has taken a step back from a year ago, but they held the Tar Heels in the game against Notre Dame and have shown at other times this season that they have the capability of being a good overall defense. The front four remains the weakness of the defense, but it showed some flashes against Notre Dame once they started working in some rotation with the young guys, who should see a lot more playing time in the final two games of the season. The struggles to generate a consistent pass rush have exposed issues on the back end of this defense in the secondary, which has been picked apart in the past few weeks. The concern is concentrated more in the middle than on the outside, as the sophomores Don Chapman and Cam’Ron Kelly have had some lapses in coverage throughout the season, leading to some big plays down the field. The linebacking corps has had more ups than downs in run defense, but they have been picked apart in pass defense so far this season. Jeremiah Gemmel has been targeted too often in coverage and the Tar Heels must find a solution to slowing down tight ends and slot receivers, primarily on third downs.

The Tar Heel special teams unit was a disaster early in the season, but they have collected themselves in the past few weeks and righted the ship a bit. Ben Kiernan and Jonathan Kim have continued their successful seasons, while Grayson Atkins has gotten himself in a bit of a rhythm in recent weeks. The return games have been solid, but nothing to write home about and it has been a similar vibe with the coverage units that luckily haven’t been tested often.

Western Carolina

There is no way to put this lightly: this is a bad Western Carolina team. The Catamount offense isn’t even averaging 300.0 yards of total offense in the two games that they’ve played so far this season. The running game is the strength of this offense, led by Donnavan Spencer, but the rest of this offense is a mess at this point.

The defense hasn’t been much better, allowing an average of 611.5 yards in the two games they’ve played so far this season. Both the passing defense and rushing defense have been butchered to shreds by Liberty and Eastern Kentucky and the Tar Heel offense, which still ranks among the best in college football.

Even the special teams unit has had their issues so far this season. Punter Brandon Dickerson has had a strong season, but Richard McCollum hasn’t been quite as successful. The return games have also been rather quiet so far this season.

Team Stats (rankings are amongst 127 FBS teams to play a game in 2020)

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 40.2 (12th)

Off. PYPG: 316.7 (16th)

Off. RYPG: 217.2 (22nd)

Off. TYPG: 533.9 (8th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 45.7% (31st)

Def. PPG: 30.8 (75th)

Def. PYPG: 263.7 (96th)

Def. RYPG: 157.1 (59th)

Def. TYPG: 420.8 (74th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.6% (55th)

Sacks: 29.0 (T-8th)

Interceptions: 7 (T-39th)

Turnover Margin: 0 (64th)

Western Carolina

Off. PPG: 15.5

Off. PYPG: 137.0

Off. RYPG: 131.5

Off. TYPG: 268.5

Off. 3rd Down %: 28.7%

Def. PPG: 53.5

Def. PYPG: 376.0

Def. RYPG: 235.5

Def. TYPG: 611.5

Def. 3rd Down %: 58.6%

Sacks: 2.0

Interceptions: 2

Turnover Margin: +4

Keys To The Game

Flex The Muscle

This is a chance for the Tar Heels to put up some points on the offensive side of the football and tee off on defense to build some momentum ahead of next week’s trip to Miami. With the struggles of the Western Carolina team as a whole, the Tar Heels shouldn’t have much of a problem accomplishing this.

Get the Youth Some Reps

On the defensive side of the football, this should be the gameplan from the word go, not only in this game, but in the final game of the regular season. Getting the young guys on the offense on the field will be important in this one, as well, especially at running back, wide receiver and tight end, where battles will be raging in the offseason.

Get the Seniors On the Field

A good majority of these guys have played major roles for the Tar Heels this season, but for some of the guys further down on the depth chart, it would be nice to see them get one final chance to get on the field. This has the feel of a game where the staff will be able to get a lot of these on the field, if not all of them, so let's hope all of the seniors get an opportunity in this one.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (leg), Ty Murray (undisclosed), Ethan West (undisclosed)

QUEST- Beau Corrales (upper body), Storm Duck (lower body)

Projected Starting Lineup

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 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.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Jr.

ILB#21 Chazz Surratt, Sr.

OLB#42 Tyrone Hopper, Sr.

CB#1 Kyler McMiichael, So.

FS# 2 Don Chapman, So.

SS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, So.

CB# 5 Patrice Rene, Sr.

NB# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr. 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.

Senior Day Honorees

# 5 Dazz Newsome

# 5 Patrice Rene

# 8 Michael Carter

#10 Jace Ruder

#12 Tomon Fox

#19 Austyn Chestnut

#21 Chazz Surratt

#28 Austin Chrismon

#30 Matthew Flint

#32 Mason Laurence

#60 Trevor Collins

#66 Tobechi Nwokeji

#84 Garrett Walston

#90 Xach Gill

#96 Cooper Graham

#97 Noah Ruggles

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