2009 ACC Football Preview: North Carolina

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North Carolina Tar Heels

Returning Starters: 15 (6 offense, 9 defense)

Key Returnees: QB T.J. Yates, RB Shaun Draughn, FB Bobby Rome, WR Greg
Little, C Lowell Dyer, LG Aaron Stahl, LT Kyle Jolly, DE Robert Quinn, DE E.J.
Wilson, DE Quinton Coples, DT Cam Thomas, DT Marvin Austin, DT Aleric Mullins,
LB Bruce Carter, LB Quan Sturdivant, CB Kendric Burney, CB Charles Brown, CB
Jordan Hemby, FS Deunta Williams, K Casey Barth

Key Losses: WR Hakeem Nicks, WR Brandon Tate, WR Brooks Foster, TE
Richard Quinn, OT Garrett Reynolds, OG Calvin Darity, OG Bryon Bishop, LB Mark
Paschal, SS Trimane Goddard

Overall View

North Carolina is a very talented football team, particularly on the
defensive side of the ball. Butch Davis has been able to recruit very good
players to Chapel Hill, and they hope to challenge for the Coastal Division
title this year. The Tar Heels will have to replace three NFL wide receivers,
and that will be a challenge.

North Carolina has a manageable schedule, with seven home games, including
the first Thursday night home game in school history, on October 22 against
Florida State. However, all five road games are against bowl teams from 2008.

Offensive Strength

Quarterback T.J. Yates is one of the best signal callers in the
conference. He started as a freshman in 2007 and threw for 2,655 yards, a UNC
single-season record. He was looking forward to having a great sophomore season,
but an injury against Virginia Tech kept him out for much of the season. He
still managed to throw for 1,168 yards, with 11 touchdowns and just four
interceptions.

Though he won’t have experienced targets to throw to in 2009, Yates will
still be the top player in the UNC offense. There is a huge drop-off from him to
backup Mike Paulus. If Yates can find a go-to receiver, he could make UNC a
major contender in the Coastal Division.

Offensive Weakness

UNC does not have any experienced returning wide receivers. Hakeem
Nicks was a first round draft pick of the Giants, Brandon Tate was selected in
the third round by the Patriots, and Brooks Foster went in the fifth round to
the Rams. Tight end Richard Quinn was also a second round pick of the Broncos.

Greg Little will move from tailback to his natural position of wide receiver.
He has game experience, but he was never impressive as a tailback. Sophomore
Dwight Jones, a former highly-touted recruit, is also expected to play a major
role, along with freshman Joshua Adams.

No matter how you slice it, there will be a definite drop-off in the
performance of the wide receivers this year.

Defensive Strength

North Carolina has arguably the most talented front seven in the ACC.
UNC goes eight or nine deep on the defensive line, led by end Robert Quinn and
tackles Marvin Austin and Cam Thomas. They also return junior linebackers Bruce
Carter and Quan Sturdivant. Both players have been starting since they were true
freshmen, and both should be ready to move into the prime of their careers.

This group has talent, but they do need to develop some more toughness.
Opponents did average 365.4 yards per game against the Tar Heels last year, and
some teams were able to establish the running game. With another year under
their belts, the front seven should be ready to play this year, and the
defensive numbers should improve quite a bit.

Defensive Weakness

The Tar Heel secondary is susceptible to the pass. Despite playing in
a league with weak quarterback play, UNC allowed 226 yards per game through the
air. They did pick off 20 passes because they put good athletes on the field,
but their returning defensive backs only combined for seven of those
interceptions.

Free safety Deunta Williams is very good, however cornerback is questionable.
Kendric Burney can be a playmaker, but he is smallish and is far from dominant.
Charles Brown is probably the weakness of the entire secondary. Passing games
around the ACC should be improved this year, so this weakness of the Carolina
defense could be exploited.

Key Game

North Carolina’s first six games are relatively easy. They should start out
either 5-1 or 6-0, depending on how they do against Georgia Tech. If that’s the
case, they’ll take a very good record into the October 22 Thursday night home
game against Florida State. This is the first home Thursday night game in
UNC history, and the first time FSU has visited Chapel Hill since 2003. It will
be the biggest home football game for the Heels in a long time.

If they win that game against the ‘Noles, UNC will set themselves up for an
even bigger Thursday night contest the next week at Virginia Tech. However, if
they lose to FSU, they put themselves in a position to lose two games in a row,
which would kill their momentum.

Chris Coleman’s Thoughts

I think UNC has a talented football team, particularly on the defensive side
football. They have a lot of guys in their front seven who are capable of
playing at a very high level. If you take the front seven of both UNC and
Virginia Tech to the NFL combine, I think you’d see more interest in the UNC
guys, with the exception of Jason Worilds.

However, I do still question UNC’s toughness and discipline. Butch Davis
teams at Miami were never disciplined, so why would it be any different at UNC?
Penalties arguably cost them the game with Virginia Tech last season, and the
Miami teams of old were always flagged a lot against the Hokies as well. Also,
when Tech needed to pick up first downs late in the game last year, they ran it
right down the throats of the Tar Heels.

On the other hand, if T.J. Yates didn’t get hurt last year, UNC probably
would have beaten the Hokies, and maybe gone on to win the Coastal Division. It
was 10-3 Tar Heels in the third quarter when Yates got hurt, and backup Mike
Paulus came in to throw two interceptions, and the Hokies rallied to win 20-17.

When I look at UNC’s offense, I see it as being somewhat finesse. I never see
the UNC offensive line dominate at the line of scrimmage, so I don’t see their
running game beating many teams this year. They will need one or more of those
young wide receivers to step up if they want their offense to be consistent, and
even then I still think their offensive line will hold them back somewhat.
Defensively, I expect UNC to be very good.

Over their last six games, UNC plays Florida State, Duke and Miami at home,
and they must travel to Virginia tech, Boston College and NC State. Those final
six games will determine their season.

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