Offense: Simply put, the Tar Heel offensive engine is humming right now. And a lot of that has to do with a rising youth movement that only gained momentum with a pair of Ryan Switzer punt returns last Saturday in Carolina’s 34-27 victory at Pittsburgh. Switzer is joined by fellow youngsters in tailbacks T.J. Logan and Khris Francis, as well as nifty receiver Bug Howard. With their rise, Carolina has an excellent stable of viable options for sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams to pick from. Williams has made a seamless transition into the starting role. He adds a dual threat to Offensive Coordinator Blake Anderson’s attack. Not to mention, he is seemingly a perfect fit for the Fedora-style warp-speed philosophy. Through the air, UNC is averaging 280 yards per outing, 27th best in the country. All-American candidate Eric Ebron is on everyone’s watch list. He is an extraordinary playmaker for the Tar Heels that will be coming to an NFL stadium near you in the near future. Even the offensive line is showing some timely improvement as they have handled some physical defensive fronts in recent weeks. All in all, it appears UNC’s offense is surging as the season winds to a close.
The Old Dominion Monarchs are led by a sensational signal caller Tyler Heinicke that has Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning making comparisons to New Orleans Saints Super Bowl-winning quarterback Drew Brees. That’s high praise. But Heinicke may be deserving. He has amassed 3,892 yards this season to go with his 32 touchdowns, and is throwing at an efficient 71.6 completion percentage. The wide receiver duo of Larry Pinkard and Antonio Vaughan have a knack for getting open and will test the Tar Heel secondary downfield. All year long, this Old Dominion team has been putting up plenty of points. They’re explosive.
EDGE: DEAD EVEN
Defense: The Tar Heels have seemingly found the formula for success on this end of the field. And a lot of this improvement has to be credited to Coach Vic’s relentless drive in practice and ability to adapt as the season progressed. He sensed his guys were struggling with all the schemes. So what did he do? He simplified. Now senior defensive end Kareem Martin says the Tar Heels have been freed up to really let loose and focus on playing with high energy and lots of passion. It seems to be working. The defense is playing faster and avoiding the dreaded ‘paralysis by analysis.’ Last week, the Tar Heels completely overwhelmed the Pitt offense in the first half, but the second half provided some struggles. Perhaps the energy level dipped a bit? That was suggested by a couple of the players at the press conference Monday. With Norkeithus Otis and Kareem Martin continuing to create havoc in opposing backfields, the Old Dominion passing attack may be forced into some less than desirable throws. And the hungry members of the secondary like Tre Boston and Dominique Green will be hungry to scarf up some interceptions.
The Old Dominion defense is a weak point. Monarch Head Coach Bobby Wilder said earlier this week he is extremely concerned with the speed of play and whether his defense can withstand the Carolina offensive weaponry. We will see soon enough. But here’s betting we could see some mismatches out there ay Kenan Stadium on Saturday in this category.
Intangibles: This category could be looked at through two different lenses. The first one gives a slight edge to Old Dominion. They have nothing to lose. It’s their final game of the year. They’re expected to lose. And they just so happen to have a heavy-weight gunslinger in their backfield that could silence the crowd early with a hot start. Also, some may surmise the Tar Heels are already looking ahead to their unexpected showdown with Duke next week. So edge goes to the Monarchs, right?
No way. Carolina is riding a wave of momentum with four straight wins. You don’t bet against the streak. The “1-0 each week” mantra is working wonders. Couple that with the fact that the Tar Heels play a pretty solid brand of football when at home in Chapel Hill. And let’s be honest, Old Dominion just got their FIRST EVER win against an FBS school last week. And who did they beat? Yes, Idaho. That hardly counts.
This contest should be entertaining for a while. Big plays will be aplenty. But I think the Tar Heel defensive pressure will begin to get to the ODU quarterback as the game wears long, forcing a couple errant throws that will hand Carolina the turnovers they need to pull away in the second half with an impressive offensive display against the overmatched Monarch defense.
QUICK PICK: Tar Heels 45, Monarchs 24