A key ACC Coastal match up lies ahead for the 3-0 (1-0) Tar Heels, who take on the 3-0 (0-0) Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets this weekend.
Coming off their first victory in an ACC opener in a decade, UNC looks to build off that momentum while containing one of the most potent offenses in the nation.
Georgia Tech won last year's match-up 30-24 against an in-flux Tar Heel lineup reeling from suspensions to several key players. This year's ACC match-up kicks off at noon on ESPN from Atlanta.
This much is a given for any of Georgia Tech's opponents.
Georgia Tech leads the nation through three games with a jaw-dropping 427.7 rushing yards per game and posts an equally-impressive 59.3 points per game.
The Yellow Jackets are coming off a thrashing of Kansas in which they put up 66 points and rushed for 604 yards en route to 768 total yards, which included six players rushing for 40 yards, highlighted by Orwin Smith's 157 yards off a meager five carries.
Granted, Kansas' defense does not have the athletes at North Carolina's disposal, but such numbers even against a Division III school should not be sneezed at.
North Carolina's defense will by far provide the biggest challenge to the Georgia Tech option offense, highlighted by their speedy linebacker corps, including Zach Brown, and elite defensive end prospects Quinton Coples and Donte Paige-Moss.
The Tar Heels undoubtedly have play makers on defense; however, with the exception of two late Matt Merletti interceptions against the Cavaliers, this aspect of the team has been noticeably absent the first three games.
Against an offense as explosive as Georgia Tech's, UNC must force turnovers in order to win the time possession battle. Winning the time possession battle does not necessitate victories—just ask Kansas—but it is a way to start.
Furthermore, they must force quarterback Tevin Washington into mistakes, as he is passing to the tune of a 334.3 rating.
Granted, the passing sample (13 attempts) may be small, but taking away at least one dimension from Georgia Tech's offense could go a long way.
As previously mentioned, winning the time of possession battle with the Yellow Jackets would be a good start. Bryn Renner has been shaky at times at quarterback, but you cannot look past his 81.7 percent completion percentage and 176.7 rating, good for third and eighth in the nation, respectively.
However, behind five turnovers, including three interceptions, against Rutgers—a far inferior team, UNC nearly handed over a game. No such mistakes will be admissible against Georgia Tech.
Last week, Kansas averaged a mere 3.6 yards per carry on 42 carries against the Georgia Tech defense.
The Tar Heels have a very potent back in Gio Bernard, who is averaging 6.7 yards a carry through three games, to go along with a bruiser of a back in Ryan Houston. The two alone have combined to score seven rushing touchdowns. Opening the passing game for Bryn Renner by developing a successful rushing attack would add an invaluable asset for the Tar Heels.
UNC has done exceptionally well keeping their focus on the field the first three games.
Tar Heel fans need no reminder of the cloud that hangs over the football program since the beginning of the 2010 season. Head coach Butch Davis was fired a mere month prior to the beginning of the football season, and it appears that with every passing week, new off-field headlines emerge regarding the scandal.
This week, UNC responded to the Notice of Allegations that had been handed down by the NCAA last June. Among the self-imposed sanctions are the vacating of wins from the 2008 and 2009 football seasons, reduction of scholarships, and probation.
The team must leave all such distractions off the field and continue their winning ways.