CHARLOTTE– It may be Christmas Eve, but the 6-6 Tar Heel football team is busy preparing for its Belk Bowl match-up with 9-3 Cincinnati on Saturday in Charlotte.

And undoubtedly, one of the keys to the game will be whether Carolina’s improving defense can slow down a versatile Bearcat offensive attack replete with the play-action and screen plays.

Cincinnati ranks 15th in the nation in passing offense, averaging 313.8 yards per contest, and is 12th in third-down conversions, picking up first downs on half of the opportunities on the “money down”.

The first order of business for the Tar Heels, according to Defensive Coordinator Vic Koenning, will be stopping the run.

“They throw the ball around a lot, and they’re good enough at running the ball. We’re going to have to stop the run. Their run game is somewhat similar to East Carolina’s and some of their pass game is. We got some bad memories of that,” Coach Koenning says.

Despite all the perceived troubles of the UNC defense, the unit has only given up more than 30 points on one occasion this season in that 55 point debacle against ECU back in September.

Coach Koenning says he hopes his defense has learned a lot from the season and comes out fired up and ready to roll from the outset in the bowl game.

“We’re going to have to play with a lot of energy and passion and be physical. Hopefully, we’ve grown from the mistakes we made during the season and improve,” Coach Koenning says.

Head Coach Larry Fedora says Cincinnati is a well rounded team under Coach Tommy Tuberville, a man who has a proven track record of success wherever he’s been through the years.

“They are a very good defensive team. Nobody’s run the ball on them very well. They’re sound in everything they do. Their guys are making plays for them. They’re playing hard. Offensively, they’re spreading it around really good, throwing the ball around, and doing some really nice things,” Coach Fedora says.

Kickoff is set for 3:20 p.m. Saturday. WCHL’s live on-site pregame coverage begins at 12pm, and the game will be televised nationwide on ESPN.