We’re four games into this season, and Saturday’s game against the Hokies will be the final uncharted territory for the Heels this season: an ACC road game. We know how bad the Heels are, but also how good that they can, and will become in the future.
- Which T. J. Yates will we see the rest of the season? For the first three games of the season, Yates looked like one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Last Saturday against South Florida, he finally played like a redshirt freshman. 11/27 passing, 85 yards, no touchdowns, and 4 interceptions. It wasn’t all his fault; the Bulls defensive line was in the backfield on every play, and USF has one of the best secondaries in the nation. However, he never thought to throw the ball away when under pressure, he always seemed to turn it over at the worst possible moment, and two interceptions to linebackers is inexcusable. So, will we see Virginia T. J. Yates, or will we see USF T. J. Yates at quarterback? I expect something in between, but only one thing is certain: Right now, in a deep, dark room on the 8th floor of Davis Library in Chapel Hill, Mike Paulus is plotting his revenge.
- Will the receivers find holes in the secondary? It’s easy to blame the quarterback for throwing those interceptions, but let’s face facts: the wide receiver tandem of Foster, Tate and Nicks were reduced to a non-factor last week; with the exception of one catch by Nicks to put UNC in range for a field goal, no one caught a pass for longer than 10 yards. That’s because our passing offense relies on yardage after the catch, and USF was able to shut it down. Watch for Virginia Tech to try and do the same.
- Is Ryan Houston the answer to our woes in the ground game? He certainly showed signs of brilliance, rushing for 48 yards on 11 carries and UNC’s only touchdown last week. He showed a great combination of power, and a great first step out of the backfield. both of which have been lacking in UNC’s running game. But his carries were in garbage time, when the game had already been decided. We’ll see what kind of impact he makes on Saturday when the game is up for grabs. My bet is that he’ll improve our running attack, but by a whole lot in the short term.
- Will UNC finally win the turnover battle? Our turnover margin is -7 for the season. We’ve only won the turnover battle, 3 to 2, against James Madison, and given the ball away 10 times while only taking the ball away twice in our three losses. This week we face a team that, over the last 15 years has been the best in the country in forcing turnovers and creating points out of them. This doesn’t bode well for the Tar Heels.
- Can the defense start strong in a game? Our biggest problems on defense have been at the beginning of games. The defensive line, in particular, spends a quarter to a quarter and a half getting physically dominated by the opposing offense before buckling down; In five of the six quarters after the first in Carolina’s past two games, the defense didn’t allow a touchdown. They are certainly capable of playing good defense, but they need to play well from the start, so that the offense doesn’t always have to play from behind, which will lead to a lot more turnovers.
The Heels are capable of beating the Hokies, but they need to play a near-perfect game. That means that Yates and his receivers need to get back in form, the running game needs to be at least respectable, the defense needs to play well from the get-go (meaning: Brandon Ore cannot look like a Heisman candidate in the first quarter), and most importantly, Carolina CANNOT TURN THE BALL OVER.
As always, I’ll be here to live blog the action. Enjoy the game.