How to Watch/Listen: Kickoff at noon on ESPN
Spread: Louisville -10
Last Time: The last time Louisville and North Carolina played came in 2012.
Louisville marched to a 36-7 halftime lead, thanks to stellar performances from Teddy Bridgewater (23/28, 279 yards, three touchdowns) and Jeremy Wright (20 carries, 114 yards, one touchdown). The Tar Heels rallied to a near comeback, but Andrew Johnson tipped a goal-line pass on fourth down to prevent it. UNC’s Bryn Renner finished with 363 yards and five touchdowns, as the Cards survived 39-34.
Louisville leads the series 4-3, winning three of the last four.
Meet the North Carolina Tar Heels:
UNC is led by sixth-year head coach Larry Fedora, who has led the Tar Heels to become one of the most consistent teams in the Coastal Division. Other than his first year where they were banned from postseason play, Fedora has led his team to a bowl game every year. UNC has built an identity around an aggressive, high-scoring offense, finishing in the top 50 every year in total offense under him.
While Fedora has managed to produce NFL talent like Giovani Bernard and recent first-round pick Mitchell Trubisky, he is in the middle of an early rebuilding process with his offense. The Tar Heels replaced former defensive coordinator Gene Chizik with John Papuchis, who served as their linebackers coach for two seasons before being promoted in the offseason.
Players to Watch:
- LB Andre Smith:
Smith made headlines in the media when he proclaimed that Lamar Jackson isn’t going to beat UNC at all. The linebacker isn’t short on confidence, nor is he in his skill set. Smith is perhaps their best overall defensive player, a solid coverage linebacker that has the speed to make tackles in UNC’s 4-2-5 set. He’ll share a big load defensively, being responsible for containing both Lamar Jackson and Louisville’s vertical passing game.
- WR Austin Proehl
Under the assumption that UNC will play the entire game with true freshman quarterback Chazz Surratt, he’ll need to find a go-to receiver that can get safe completions. The son of former NFL wideout Ricky Proehl, Austin has good route running and the ability to play inside or outside, but most importantly makes catches when he’s able to get separation. UNC’s short and intermediate passing game could be predicated on his success, especially if the Louisville secondary will play with the cushion that they showed last week.
- RB Michael Carter / Jordan Brown
The Tar Heels will likely split carries between Carter and Brown, both of whom have big play potential in their offense. One of the main takeaways from watching them was the ability to take runs outside and accelerate past the first-down marker. Both backs will test Louisville’s ability to play sideline-to-sideline; Carter has big play potential that can make guys miss in space (8.5 yards per carry), while Brown can be used in passing downs and give Surratt another reliable target out of the backfield. Despite Louisville’s lack of size at linebacker, their speed should give them an opportunity to win this matchup.
Keys to the Game
- Defensive Line v. Jackson / Surratt
Both defensive lines have quality pass rushers, but with two quarterbacks who are able to extend plays (Louisville’s Lamar Jackson and UNC’s Surratt), it will be crucial who does a better job of containing them in the pocket. Surratt extended a lot of plays last week, but most importantly didn’t turn the ball over a lot because he wasn’t really under duress while doing so. Louisville has to force the issue with Surratt, containing him to where his throws aren’t in rhythm and possibly sneak a turnover or two.
On the other side, this is a game that Jackson can really shine in. The UNC front seven has playmakers in Aaron Crawford and Malik Carney, and M.J. Stewart can cover any of Louisville’s receivers. But one of their main weaknesses was their inability to close in on the QB; that resulted in multiple big plays downfield, including 67-yard and 54-yard touchdown passes. That cannot happen again for UNC, with an athlete like Jackson at QB. Look for UNC to run either zone coverage in the middle of field, or have Smith spy on Jackson periodically to keep his option game in check.
- Austin Proehl v. Trumaine Washington
As of right now, Jaire Alexander’s status for the game is currently unknown. If he is able to go, his presence will have a huge impact. But regardless, expect Proehl to be paired with Washington a lot tomorrow. Purdue was able to rack up completions while Louisville played with a ton of cushion, particularly with Washington covering a similar receiver in Purdue’s Jackson Anthrop. Proehl’s prowess in route running could get Washington to bite if they have Proehl execute double moves, and Surratt’s scrambling ability will extend his time to get open.
- Can Louisville Get the Running Game Going?
For Louisville to be at its best, a running back has to get going. The offensive linemen did a great job in pass protection last week, but left a lot to be desired in run blocking. It shouldn’t be a surprise that Jackson will lead the team in carries and have big plays, but the O-line has to create lanes for the backs.
The main matchup to focus on here is Lukayus McNeil v. Aaron Crawford. Crawford has impressive get-off and pushed Cal’s line backwards multiple times, completely stopping their running game. Mekhi Becton will also face a stern test in Carney, who has impressive speed on the edge. These matchups will set the tone for whether or not Reggie Bonnafon and/or Jeremy Smith can get going.
Another way for Louisville’s backs to get going is the read-option. If UNC continues to play nickel or dime, the shortage of defenders in the box can open opportunities for Jackson to get to the second level. If defenders start to sell out to stop him, both backs could find room to work with inside, and get chunks of yardage.