It's been a tale of two seasons for Butch Davis' Tar Heel squad, as North Carolina dropped its first two ACC contests - including a 16-3 loss to Virginia at home. Compare that to three wins in a row over Virginia Tech, Duke, and Miami and it's hard to find a hotter team in the ACC.
A main reason for UNC's winning ways has been that their defense is finally living up to their potential. The Tar Heel defense is loaded with players who will be first or second round draft picks, and the offensive has started to move the ball better, keeping them off the field.
I'd be surprised not to see a defensive touchdown in this matchup, as this game is shaping up to be a defensive stalemate. North Carolina's defense ranks in the top ten in the nation, and Boston College's powerful running attack will face its greatest challenge of the season.
When BC runs: Advantage North Carolina
Quan Sturdivant is North Carolina's leading tackler, which includes 10 for a loss. Draft experts have him as a top-five linebacker in the upcoming NFL draft, and he possesses the agility, strength and awareness to play well at the next level.
Outside Linebacker Bruce Carter, the junior three-year starter, might be the best athlete on the defensive side of the football. Carter can go sideline-to-sideline, he can mirror the back on the line of scrimmage and has the speed to keep running plays in front of him.
Defensive Tackle Marvin Austin is a guy that isn't getting much recognition, unless you're an NFL scout. That's because Austin is usually drawing a double team on running plays, and he should pose an interesting match-up for the BC offensive line.
As for the Eagles running attack, this game is the equivalent of the final exam for the offensive line. They pushed Virginia around last week, but the front seven for North Carolina will be the quickest group they've faced all year. The only way BC will be effective throwing the ball, is by setting it up with the run. I hope Gary Tranquill has realized that Montel Harris is the key to winning this game. It's not outside of the realm of possibilities to see him get over 35 carries again.
When BC passes: Advantage North Carolina
If you read last week's offensive report card, you know my feelings about what the Eagles should do on offense. This Tar Heel defense is not one that you want to be late throwing the ball against. The key here is for Dave Shinskie to make quick, three step drops, which will set up the draws and delays. If Shinskie decides to hang on to the ball, then make a decision late down the field, he will spend a lot of time on the sidelines.
North Carolina ranks 15th in nation in pass defense, allowing 5.5 yard per pass, and have given up five touchdowns against 14 interceptions.
Kendric Burney had three interceptions last week, including a pick six, and then another pick six where he lateraled to a teammate who ran it in. He constantly has his head in the backfield, which could leave him susceptible to the play fake.
Defensive end Robert Quinn is second only to future first round pick Derrick Morgan with 10 sacks, good enough for 8th in the nation. North Carolina's pass rush doesn't need to blitz to get steady pressure on the quarterback. BC's offensive line has only allowed 12 sacks on the season.
When North Carolina runs: Advantage BC
The Tar Heels strength lies in running the ball between the tackles. Shaun Draughn is North Carolina's primary back, but he's started to share carries as of late. Draughn has 567 yards rushing, with one touchdown on the year.
Ryan Houston is the short-yardage back, and provides a nice change of pace when relieving Draughn. He rarely goes down on first contact, and looks to get underneath opposing tacklers. The low man always wins.
The Eagles are second in the ACC in run defense, only allowing 110 yards per game. BC has held its opponents to under 100 yards rushing the past two weeks, and at this point it would be a travesty if Luke Kuechly wasn't voted First Team All-ACC. Kuechly leads the ACC in solo tackles, and he's simply all over the field.
When North Carolina throws: Advantage BC
T. J. Yates (10 touchdowns, 10 interceptions) might not stand a chance if the Eagles decide to come after him Saturday. He's the kind of quarterback that gets enamored with the pass rush, and forgets to look down field. Yates has a decent arm, but his pocket presence leaves much to be desired. He seems a step slow in moving up in the pocket when he's getting rushed from the outside.
Greg Little (42 catches, 409 yards, 3 touchdowns) runs crisp routes, and that allows him to separate from the defender on a quick slant, as he did last week against Miami. Also look for Little to get a carry or two on an end around.
Tight end Zack Pianalto presents the biggest challenge for the BC secondary. He missed five games after dislocating his left foot, but came back to lead all UNC players with five catches and 51 yards receiving last week. Pianalto is Yates' favorite check-down option, and it will be imperative to make sure that he stays bottled up underneath.
BC's secondary suffers from a lack of pressure on the quarterback. The Eagles are dead last in the ACC in sacks (13), and T. J. Yates is the kind of player who folds after he gets hit a few times. I'd like to see Bill McGovern dial up a few more inside blitzes, as Yates is prone to make some atrocious passes under the gun.
Special Teams: Advantage North Carolina
Casey Barth is 17 of 20 kicking field goals, and he's clutch in pressure situations, kicking the game-winner at Virginia Tech.
BC is averaging over six punts per game. Ryan Quigley leads to the ACC in punts, but is still booming them, averaging over 40 yards per kick.
Vegas Vantage Point:
Boston College -3.5 - they always throw the home team three points, but this game should really be a pick 'em.
- UNC has a great defense, but Yates makes some bad decisions which leads to only having a +1 turnover margin.
- UNC is 13th in the nation in scoring defense, only allowing 16 pts per game.
- BC is 4th in the ACC in rushing offense, 146 yards per game.
- UNC is 9th in the nation (#1 ACC) in rush defense, allowing 94 yards per game. BC's rush defense is 29th in the nation.
- UNC is 89th in the nation (10th ACC) in scoring offense, averaging 23 points per game.
I expect the BC defense to really show its teeth, and the major downfall for UNC is their poise. Butch Davis isn't much of a disciplinarian, and this UNC team tends to take plays off.
Boston College 24, North Carolina 21
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