Can Carolina Beat Tennessee Without Anthony Elzy?

Anthony Elzy joined the long line of Tar Heel football players who have done something stupid this year, getting himself scrubbed from the bowl game after failing to meet his student-athlete obligations. Although there's a slim hope that Johnny White could recover from his broken collarbone in time, for the moment the depth chart consists of Shaun Draughn and hero of the Florida State game Hunter Furr. No matter how you spin it (Hey! Our second string averages 5.2 yards a carry!) this is a bad sign for the Heels.

The annoying thing is, Tennessee's run defense isn't that strong. Four teams put up 5+ yards a carry against the Volunteers this year, and while Draughn's done his time as a starter last season, he always had Ryan Houston to shoulder part of the load. It's possible he's got a great game left in him – he was one yard shy of his career high against East Carolina earlier this season – but it's not something I'd count on.

That leaves the passing game; the good news is that Tennessee isn't big on interceptions, managing only four on the season, and a full half of them against Louisiana-Lafeyette. They don't particularly give up a lot of deep passes, but UNC doesn't throw many of those, so it's a wash. T.J. Yates should be able to pick them apart with short passes to some extent, provided he gets enough time to throw. Tennessee has picked up on their sack total in the four-game winning streak that ended the season, which could give the Heels' never-strong offensive line trouble.

When Tennessee has the ball, things look better for the Heels. Tennessee has the worst rushing attack in the SEC, while UNC's defense has been strong against the run. Junior Tauren Poole gets the brunt of the carries, and he has similar numbers to Draughn; Carolina should be able to handle him without too much difficulty.

The Volunteers are more dangerous through the air, which is worrisome. They were fourth in the SEC in passing offense and have seven different players with touchdown receptions. UNC's been weak against the long pass, especially when the opposing quarterback has time to throw, as Virginia Tech ably demonstrated. The good news is Tennessee's offensive line won't buy quarterback Tyler Bray much time; they're the most sacked team in their conference. Bray, who's 4-0 since taking the starting job from Matt Simms, isn't much of a scrambler either, so expect the UNC defense, even without Bruce Carter, to go after him hard. When he does throw, he'll most often hit Denarius Moore and Gerald Jones; both are seniors and have a combined seven touchdowns in the last four games.

On special teams, UNC's big weakness this season, there's some hope. Tennessee doesn't do much at all with punt returns, and are only slightly better with kickoff returns Their punting is rather weak, and their field goal kicking solid, despite switching kickers midseason and then switching back.

The bottom line is, this a very winnable game for the Heels, against a good enough opponent to end the season on a high note. Losing Elzy hurts, just like losing Carter did, and Pianalto before that, along with everyone who exited the season early, stage agent-and-tutor. I think Carolina can pul it off, frankly, as Tennessee has been pretty aimless all year. Otherwise, it will be a third consecutive bowl loss for Butch Davis, and another example of the wasted promise of this season. Winning seems like a much more preferable option.

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