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Key Matchups: North Carolina

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The matchups this week focus in on the play at the line of scrimmage.

Louisville v Purdue Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

ANDRE SMITH VS. LAMAR JACKSON

I’ve spent a lot of time this week talking about UNC’s basic defensive scheme against Cal last week. In that scheme, Andre Smith was left alone in the middle of the field to cover crossing routes and running backs out of the backfield. Against Louisville that would include spying or blitzing Lamar Jackson. I don’t think they can run the same defense they did last week because of the added threat of Jackson running as well as the zone read plays but Smith will still have to be a big factor in stopping or slowing down Lamar.

M.J. STEWART VS. LOUISVILLE’S SLOT RECEIVERS

One thing I really liked with UNC’s defense is that they move M.J. Stewart around in the secondary. Stewart is one of the best corners in the country and they used him in the slot a lot last week where Cal’s best receivers lined up. Cal didn’t really push the ball outside much and didn’t take a bunch of traditional deep shots. They worked a lot of short passes and and Stewart was there to make a play on a lot of them.

UofL moved guys around at receiver as they typically do. Jaylen Smith lined up inside and outside and Dez Fitzpatrick was also used as an inside receiver. I think that we will almost exclusively see Stewart inside so that he can match up with Louisville’s top receivers. Lamar Jackson didn’t complete too many passes outside of the numbers last week and even then they weren’t from the pocket. I’ll be looking to see if that changes with the struggles the other cornerbacks not named Stewart had last week.

MECHI BECTON VS. MALIK CARNEY

Louisville’s massive freshman tackle played pretty well on Saturday. He was much stronger in pass protection than run blocking, but I really can’t complain about his performance. He was tossed aside on a short yardage run by a veteran defensive linemen and he got away with a hold early in the game. But, outside of those two plays nothing jumped out as “bad” to me.

This week Becton will likely end up going against a different type of defensive end than he’s seen in Malik Carney. Carney is 235 pounds dripping wet and he can really get off the ball quickly and turn the corner with speed. Becton has a great reach to go with a wide base but Carney can bend and get under that reach and make for an awkward block. Carney and Tomon Fox were able to get after Cal’s quarterback last week and get his feet moving in the pocket.

I’m really interested in how this plays out in run blocking as Carney is much smaller than Becton and could possibly get underneath Becton and make it hard on him. Becton could also complete dominate the matchup and clear big running lanes on the outside for Reggie Bonnafon and Lamar. That could really change the game on it’s own.

LOUISVILLE’S LINEBACKERS VS. CHAZZ SURRATT

I think that Chazz Surratt gives UNC the best chance to win this year and for the foreseeable future. Part of the reason that I feel this way is that Surratt has the ability to run when nothing is open and get solid yardage and first downs. He can also be used in a similar fashion as Deshaun Watson on designed running plays. Watson ran a lot of “QB Power” runs where he took the snap and followed a lead blocker like a running back. Surratt has that ability too because of his size. He’s not going to outrun many people but he kind of picks his way though the defense. The second level players for Louisville can’t let him make those types of runs on third downs to extend a drive.

Louisville used Stacy Thomas and Dorian Etheridge in a short zone a good amount last week. They were responsible for crossing routes and tight ends as well as being run stoppers. I think we will see the same this week in an effort to spy Surratt and also to take away some of the easy throws he will be looking to make. Surratt is a redshirt freshman and he hasn’t really been asked to do too much in the passing game yet. I think that Etheridge and Thomas could have an opportunity to jump in front of a throw or two and make a big play.

NORTH CAROLINA’S DEFENSIVE TACKLES VS. LOUISVILLE’S INTERIOR LINE

Louisville’s interior line played well last week, especially when it came to protecting Lamar. They kept a clean pocket and handled Purdue’s blitzes and stunts comfortably so that Lamar didn’t get rushed or have to bail out of the pocket. The pass protection was about as good as you could ask for. The run blocking wasn’t always there but they did do a pretty good job getting outside on edge runs.

This week UofL will go against a line that is much better in my opinion. Aaron Crawford showed great burst off the snap and a great ability to get push. A few times against Cal, Crawford pushed his man back into the pocket and into the quarterback’s lap. He did the same when it came to running plays. If Jalen Dalton can keep his head this week after being tossed out of the game for a malicious targeting call, I think we will really see the test we all want to see for this rebuilt offensive line.

I also wonder if UNC will blitz Lamar after they couldn’t get enough pressure last week. It’s one of the things that teams found success with last season. Bringing pressure up the middle and Lamar being forced to either make a quick pass or bail out of the pocket can be a win for the defense. It could also mean that he’s just going to run through all of the open space you leave in the second level. Crawford and Dalton could make things easier for the defense if they can get penetration or just blow up blocking assignments.