The bell will toll, the pig will be picked, the sky will be a certain shade of blue, and sundresses of the North Carolina female faithful will be out in full form as the Tar Heels face the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders in the first home game of the 2013 campaign. After suffering a disheartening lost in Columbia against Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks, head coach Larry Fedora looks to regroup and execute his anticipated high-powered offensive — an offense he started developing at MTSU where Fedora got his first offensive coordinator position in 1999.
Middle Tennessee comes to Chapel Hill just a year after upsetting Georgia Tech in Atlanta in 2012. Located in Murfreesboro, Tennessee — a sprawling “suburb” of Nashville and a 35-minute drive southeast of the Music City — eighth year head coach Rick Stockstill will bring his high-powered offense into Chapel Hill. Last week, the Blue Raiders put up 49 points and 475 total yards on the lowly Catamounts from Western Carolina. Three-year starting quarterback Logan Kilgore injured his shoulder last week but should be good to go on Saturday. A dual-threat QB, look for Kilgore to attack the Heels both through the air and with his feet. However despite their offensive production, Middle Tennessee’s defense gave up 371 yards, including 257 through the air, in their opening match-up against Western Carolina.
Fedora and the Tar Heel offense should be in full form on Saturday. Without the pressure of an SEC defense, the fear of the ESPN hype machine product Jadeveon Clowney, and the nerves of a first game, the Heels will be running on all cylinders. Senior quarterback and three year starter Bryn Renner should get more time in the pocket to pick apart the defense, make his reads, and put the ball in the hands of the Heels’ playmakers. The offensive line has had one more week to mesh, and the in-game experience should help them adjust to the speed of the game and correct mistakes. Newcomers to the line Jon Heck and Caleb Peterson will also feel more comfortable in protection and run blocking after dealing with Clowney last Thursday.
There is no denying that the Heels will miss the success of last year’s running game. Led by All-American offensive guard and NFL first round pick Jonathan Cooper, and star running back and second round pick Gio Bernard (who seemed to rattle off 20 plus yard runs every quarter), the Heels were very productive in the 2012 record-breaking season for their offense. In 2013, Fedora will employ a combination of AJ Blue and Romar Morris in the backfield. Speedy Freshman wide receiver Ryan Switzer caught passes in the backfield against South Carolina and should be used creatively in the ‘Fed Spread’ all year. Fedora has also said that freshmen running backs Khris Francis and TJ Logan should see snaps this Fall. Both have had great camps and could contribute this season.
Against Middle Tennessee, the Tar Heels should win with ease and display what they are capable of doing this season. Offensively, expect Renner to spread the ball around, produce big plays, and establish a successful running game. Similar to last year, it seems the weakness of the 2013 squad will be their defense and the worrisome instability and inexperience of the front seven. The three returning starters in the secondary didn’t seem much improved from last year against the Gamecocks as they repeatedly missed crucial tackles and assignments. A good showing and enhanced communication among the Heels defense on Saturday should give UNC fans more confidence heading into conference play.
Martin’s Pick: UNC 44, MTSU 13