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Game Day: Louisville At North Carolina

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NCAA Football: Music City Bowl-Texas A&M vs Louisville Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

LOUISVILLE CARDINALS (1-0) AT NORTH CAROLINA TAR HEELS (0-1)

Game Time: Noon

Location: Kenan Stadium: Chapel Hill, N.C.

Television: ESPN

Announcers: Dave Pasch (play-by-play), Greg McElroy (analyst) and„ Tom Luginbill (sideline)

Favorite: Louisville by 9.5

All-Time Series: Louisville leads 4-3

Last Meeting: Louisville won 39-34 on Sept. 15, 2012 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium

Series History:

Statistics:

Louisville Uniforms:

North Carolina Uniforms:

North Carolina Depth Chart:

About North Carolina:

via Keith Wynne

OFFENSE

Larry Fedora has been regarded as one of the best offensive coaches in the country over the last decade. He led prolific offenses at Oklahoma State and Southern Miss before moving on to UNC. Fedora’s style of offense is very aggressive and very wide open. He’s utilized mobile quarterbacks over the last few years but not really dynamic dual-threat guys. This year he has his work cut out for him as his offense lost almost every skill position player as well as four offensive linemen. The first game of the season against Cal left a lot to be desired as Fedora rotated quarterbacks and couldn’t get many big plays.

The Tar Heels had some questions at quarterback at the end of last season. Mitch Trubiskyhad waited his turn for a couple of years and exploded once he took over. Because UNC had two high level quarterbacks for a few years it made it harder to recruit a third guy. So, Fedora went after Brandon Harris after he left LSU as a graduate transfer. Harris was benched by the Tigers after he couldn’t quite turn the corner over a full year plus one game. Harris has physical talents that you want from any quarterback but he consistently makes bad decisions. That looks to be the same after his two interceptions against Cal. In my opinion, Harris isn’t the answer for UNC but Fedora hasn’t committed to picking one quarterback.

The best option for UNC is Chazz Surratt if you ask me (or anyone with working eyes). Surratt is a redshirt freshman who showed really good intermediate accuracy as well as solid running ability. He completed 64 percent of his passes on Saturday and added 66 rushing yards on designed runs and scrambles. The offense scored 4 touchdowns with him in the game while Harris led them to a field goal and an interception while driving into field goal range. Fedora deserves all the heat if he refuses to go with the player that is playing better and is the future at the position.

The UNC passing game was mostly short crossing routes over the middle and comebacks and short hitches on the outside. Surratt had a lot of trouble finding open guys and had to extend plays to create openings. UNC had a couple of deep threats over the last few years but they don’t seem to have those guys that can stretch the field and open up things for others this year. They do, however, have a couple of really good possession guys that can get separation on crossing routes and get in and out of breaks well. Purdue’s Jackson Anthrop had a really good game against Louisville and his quarterbacks relied on him a lot. I could see UNC looking for the same this week.

UNC had two of the best running backs in the conference last season but Fedora was known for underutilizing them when they were playing well. That absolutely can’t happen this year if he’s looking to have a successful season. He, again, has two strong running backs and used them very well against Cal. I still think that he could use them more. They combined for 23 carries but that number has to be 30 or more if you ask me. Michael Carter is a true freshman with great speed while Jordan Brown is a sophomore that runs with speed and power. The Tar Heels also used Brown as a receiver out of the backfield to add some options for Surratt.

I think that the Brown/Carter combo could be a real issue for Louisville if Fedora commits to the run. Purdue didn’t run the ball very well, but D.J. Knox was able to get a couple of good runs due to his burst and surprising ability to fall forward when tackled. Jordan Brown showed the same ability against Cal. I also think that the swing passes they used could cause some issues for Louisville even if they are just able to stretch the defense with them and open up some of the other routes against zone coverage. Another thing that we might see on Saturday is misdirection plays. Purdue had a little success there and Louisville is relying on some younger players that could be over-aggressive.

UNC was left with one reliable receiver coming into this year in Austin Proehl. The son of the longtime NFL receiver plays just like his dad as a possession receiver with quick feet. Proehlplays outside mostly, but he can move into the slot and he also returns punts. He and Thomas Jackson are guys that do a good job of running crisp routes and finding passing windows in the middle of the field. Jackson is a former walk-on that made some really impressive plays last year including taking a quick screen past All-American Tarvarus McFadden and the rest of FSU’s defense for a long touchdown last year. These two guys worry me more than the others but Brandon Fritts is a guy to look out for after Purdue had so much success with their tight ends.

It’s never a good thing when you have to replace four offensive linemen, but UNC returned a veteran tackle and had a highly rated backup move into the other tackle spot. They were also able to reach into the transfer market fora graduate transfer center in Cameron Dillard. The pass protection last week was hard to get a true feel for because of Surratt’s penchant for extending plays. He ended up taking a couple of “coverage” sacks as well as getting tackled as he was attempting to escape. I didn’t see a lot of bad pockets or blown assignments when I watched but there were times when the pocket was very tight. Stretch runs and other outside runs seemed to work best with the line. They got some real push when they were on the move and provided plenty of room for the running backs. Cal wasn’t very good against the run last year, so that’s definitely something to take into account.

DEFENSE

North Carolina hasn’t been known for their defense during Larry Fedora’s tenure. However, things seemed to change over the last two years under Gene Chizik. UNC ranked highly in pass defense and helped the team stay out of shootouts every week. Chizik decided to retire after the season to spend more time with his family. Chizik’s departure was surprising and left Fedora with another hole to fill on a team that lost a lot on offense.

John Papuchis was promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator after Chizik retired. Papuchis was Bo Pelini’s DC at Nebraska up until Pelini was fired. There’s not a lot to know about tendencies with him but he didn’t vary his looks against a spread look from Cal last week. UNC only blitzed a couple of times but their front four were able to get some pressure on the quarterback. He switched between a nickel and dime package mostly but still rushed four the majority of the time.

The defense for the Tar Heels had some very real positives last week even though Cal piled up a lot of yardage. UNC’s defensive front all but shut down the Cal running game. Aaron Crawford played extremely well at defensive tackle and really made it hard for Cal to get anything going in the run game. Crawford also did a great job pushing the pocket on passing plays and getting the quarterback’s feet moving. Jalen Dalton was kicked out of the game after one of the worst targeting hits I’ve ever seen lines up at the other tackle spot. Dalton was a highly rated recruit that has waited his turn but if he can’t display better judgement, he might not be on the field much. Dalton’s backup, Jason Stowbridge, played well and likely gave the coaches a good feeling about rotating him in more often.

I was really impressed with the pass rushing abilities of the defensive ends. Malik Carney really stood out to me. He ended up with one sack against Cal but I really felt that he got into the backfield and made the quarterback uncomfortable a handful of times. Carney could be a real test for Mechi Becton in his second game. The front four made Cal’s quarterback bail out of the pocket multiple times but they didn’t bring him down when they did that. He was able to get space and complete passes that ended up as big plays. Purdue wasn’t able to make Lamar too uncomfortable even though he chose to bail out a handful of times. It will be interesting to see if UNC can get pressure with four. That could help them out when it comes to covering Lamar’s options as well as keeping him to shorter runs when he scrambles.

The entire linebacker group returned for UNC and they played well on Saturday. I was especially impressed by their skills in pass coverage. Andre Smith plays in the middle and he not only ran with Demetris Robertson (The #1 ranked WR in the 2016 class) on a crossing route, he kept up with him, picked off an errant pass, then nearly outran Robertson to the endzone. Cole Holcomb and Cayson Collins didn’t make any highlight plays but they both bring the experience you need to feel comfortable that everyone is taking care of their assignments. All three of these guys can play in coverage (Holcomb had some struggles) and they all fly to the ball. As impressed as I was with Purdue’s linebackers, I think that UNC has guys that are just as sound but more athletic.

One thing that stood out to me in the Purdue game is that Markus Bailey stayed in and covered slot receivers even in obvious passing situations. Cayson Collins plays that role for UNC but he wasn’t on the field nearly as much because they were in the nickel a lot. Collins is a playmaker that I think they need to get on the field more but I’m not totally sure how they do that when people spread them out. The dime package for UNC will really going to be something to keep an eye on because it leaves Andre Smith on an island and Lamar Jackson will eat them alive if that’s the case.

The UNC secondary was really good last year even though it wasn’t tested much. Much like Purdue, teams chose to run the ball against them because UNC couldn’t stop them. In the Cal game, the UNC secondary played pretty well but they also gave up way too many big plays. Part of the reason for this (maybe even most) is that the pass rush failed to get the quarterback to the ground. That left the secondary in a spot where they had to keep up with their man for an extended time. Also, playing man coverage on every play leaves you open for wheel routes and swing passes and Cal scored on both.

Papuchis kept the defense in a man under defense with two safeties high. That is literally the most popular defensive play in Madden. UNC was in nickel or dime for most of the game and they ran straight man across with Andre Smith responsible for the running back. There’s no way that they can do that against Lamar Jackson. Cal’s quarterback didn’t run the ball until a 3rd and long in the fourth quarter and he pretty much jogged for the first down. Everyone has their back turned to the quarterback and the safeties are 30 yards away after the snap. I’ve been writing this post for 6 years and I’ve never seen anything as basic as this defense.

What I think we will see from the Tar Heels is a man-zone hybrid with linebackers in zone and outside corners in man coverage. Their safeties will play in short zones with the corners giving cushion with no help over top. M.J. Stewart is one of the best corners in the country and he played inside against Cal’s slot receivers. I could see that happening again as UofL really targeted inside guys and even played Jaylen Smith there a lot. Myles Dorn and Donnie Milesboth showed outstanding ability to play downhill against the run and fly to the ball. I think UNC will take advantage of these guys as contain players against the zone read plays and scrambles from Lamar.

The question that I’m sure UNC’s defensive coaches are asking is if the other corners can hang with Louisville’s receivers. Lamar Jackson completed a lot of passes including some quick ins and slants against man coverage. Can UNC get to him before those throws? If not, those are easy completions for him that he will take all day. If UNC can’t get pressure at all and they don’t have safeties over top, Louisville will take more deep shots which they didn’t do last week. UNC defensive backs not named M.J. Stewart got beat a lot against Cal. UofL will likely look to do the same this week.

Relevant Videos:

Excitement Level: 9.0

This is more of a throwback to the old “anxiety meter.” Louisville should win this game, but they also should have won by a lot more than a touchdown last week, and they’ve had some bizarre struggles against the Coastal. But more than that, I’m anxious because of how badly I want next week to be as fun as it can possibly be. I need 2-0 Louisville hosting the reigning national champs for the first home game. I really, really don’t want that morning/afternoon of tailgating to be tainted at all, and a loss today would do just that.

Game Attire: Leaping Lamar t-shirt, shorts, grey Cardinal bird hat

I’m rolling to the Walk to End Alzheimer’s in the morning and probably won’t have time to change afterward. I’m cool with this because usually I’ve attended the week one game and don’t want to mess up the good juju from the opening win. Not the case this year.

Pregame Meal: Beer, maybe order a pizza

There is no set plan in place at the moment outside of beer.

Bold Prediction: Louisville has fewer than eight false start penalties

This wouldn’t be bold for any other team in the country, but whatever. I’m taking a baby steps approach to bold predictions this year.

Zykiesis Cannon Interception Alert Level: Charcoal-Gray (oddly strong)

I explained my affinity for Zeke last week and he promptly produced the best performance of his college career to date. Let’s take it up a notch in week two.

Predicted Star of the Game: Malik Williams

Lamar is going to be solid, but I’m taking a shot here and saying that Malik Williams gets a big chance in the backfield and establishes himself as the potential answer to U of L’s running back questions.

Motivational Opposition Tweets:

A whole lot of Tar Heels out here retweeting and favoriting Lamar Jackson’s “going super Saiyan” tweet ... which I still don’t fully understand, but apparently a lot of people do.

Notable

—Louisville is 2-1 in ACC openers since joining the conference in 2014 .

—A victory Saturday would give Louisville a 2-0 start for the seventh time in eight seasons under the direction of Bobby Petrino.

—Larry Fedora is one of just 12 active coaches averaging 35 points per game in his career. Carolina has scored 30 or more points in 44 of Fedora’s 66 games at UNC, and 40 or more points in 26 of those contests.

—In its three years in the ACC, Louisville has a combined 334-106 record in the sports of baseball, football, and men’s and women’s basketball, a .759 winning percentage that is easily tops in the league.

—North Carolina is 25-9 under Larry Fedora in games played at Kenan Stadium.

—As a member of the ACC, Louisville is 4-2 in games against Coastal Division opponents.

—The 9.5-point spread makes this the biggest underdog North Carolina has been in a home game under Fedora.

—North Carolina returns just 12.7 percent yards of their total offense from last year, which is the lowest of any Power 5 program.

—Defensively, the Tar Heels return their three top tacklers in linebackers Cole Holcomb (115 tackles) and Andre Smith (113), and safety Donnie Miles (102). It is the first time Carolina has returned its top three tacklers since the 2010 season

—Louisville is 76-24 all-time when playing as a team ranked in the AP top 25.

—At halftime of Saturday’s game, North Carolina will present championship rings to the members of its 2016-17 men’s basketball team.

—Michael Jordan was originally scheduled to serve as North Carolina’s honorary captain for this game, but was forced to cancel because of travel issues related to Hurricane Irma.

—North Carolina will also honor its 1992 Peach Bowl team on Saturday.

—UNC will be giving “The Ceiling is the Roof” t-shirts to the first 1,000 students in attendance.

—This will be the 300th game Louisville has played on live television.

—North Carolina is expected to play both Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt at quarterback on Saturday. Surratt completed 18 of 28 passes for 161 yards and one score and rushed 16 times for 66 yards and a touchdown in UNC’s 35-30 loss to Cal last week. Harris was 7-of-16 for 60 yards with two interceptions.

—Bobby Petrino is 2-0 in games against North Carolina, winning those games by a combined score of 103-14.

—Louisville preseason All-American cornerback Jaire Alexander is not expected to play in this game after suffering a leg injury last week against Purdue.

—North Carolina allowed 6.42 yards per play against Cal – only 26 out of 128 FBS teams performed worse on a per-play basis in week one.

—North Carolina hasn’t started a season 0-2 since 2010.

—Louisville is 16-17 all-time in conference openers, including a 9-9 record in road games. The Cards have been victorious the last three times their first league game has been on the road (2012 at Pitt, 2013 at Temple, 2016 at Syracuse).

—North Carolina is 13-3 in its last 16 ACC regular season games.

—Louisville is 7-5 in ACC road games, but has won three of its last four.

—This marks the first time a reigning Heisman Trophy winner has played North Carolina since 1975, when Carolina faced Archie Griffin’s Ohio State Buckeyes in Columbus. Griffin, the only two-time Heisman Trophy winner, opened that 1975 season against Purdue, just as Lamar Jackson did last week.

—Louisville is currently riding a consecutive game scoring streak that spans 213 games dating back to the 2000 season. The streak ranks as the third longest in the ACC behind only Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech.

—Louisville is 177-11 all-time when scoring 35 or more points in a game. The Cards are also 5-103 all-time when allowing opponents to score 40 or more points.

Quotable

—"We definitely don't want it to be the Lamar Jackson show. If he's able to beat us with his arm, well then — actually, they're not going to beat us at all. I take that back. He's not going to beat us. We are just going to stop anything he tries to do. He's not going to be able to run on us. We have everything solidified with that." —North Carolina LB Andre Smith

—“I’ve faced some good players, but (Lamar Jackson)’s a phenomenal player. He’s a guy where you can do everything perfect, and he can make you look really bad. He can do some things and has some gifts that other people don’t have. He’s a pretty special player.” –-North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora

—"They do a good job with their pass defense. It will be interesting to see how they play us." —Bobby Petrino

—“He’s an elusive quarterback. He kind of reminds me a little of Michael Vick. Great footwork, real slippery I should say. I can’t wait to get out there.” —North Carolina defensive end Malik Carney

—"They look good on video, they run the ball well and we got two quarterbacks again to prepare for. Defensively, they've got a lot of experience—you turn the video on from last year and this year and it's a lot of the same players playing, particularly at linebacker and in the secondary.” —Bobby Petrino

—"I'm trying to win. That's all that's on my mind. We've got to win this game. We're not going to lose." —Lamar Jackson

Card Chronicle Prediction: Louisville 35, North Carolina 20

I’ve felt all week like this is going to be a game where either everything clicks like it did last year at Syracuse in week two, or where we’re all terrified for four quarters. That being the case, I’m doing what I should do more often and completely rejecting my own thoughts and splitting the difference.