Take a little ride in the WayBack Machine. The year is 2005. John Bunting is the head coach of the North Carolina and the Tar Heels are playing Louisville at Papa John's Stadium.
Then this happened. Yes, the last Tar Heel visit to Louisville one of many thrashings UNC endured during the Bunting years. In this case it was 69-14 that saw the Heels give up 451 yards of total offense and turn the ball over four times. Let us never speak of it again.
Obviously no one foresees this trip to Louisville producing a similar result but UNC does have its work cut out facing the Cardinals without Gio Bernard. As was reported Friday evening, Bernard did not even make the trip to Louisville despite numerous signs throughout the week that he would be back. That means the Heels running game will likely be a combination of Romar Morris and A.J. Blue. Morris and Blue were effective against Wake Forest but neither is the dynamic player Bernard is who is capable of breaking off the "big one" at any given point.
Still, the running game with Morris and Blue should be enough to strike the offensive balance Larry Fedora is looking for. The effectiveness of the offense might rest on the passing game. QB Bryn Renner looked sharp early against Wake Forest but following an injury in the second quarter(the now infamous "was it or wasn't it a concussion" hit) his play was extremely suspect. Providing, Renner has shaken that injury off and is not gun shy as a result, his play should return to a fairly high level. The question lies with the receivers. In Fedora's offense, multiple receivers get used though fewer will be since injuries are starting to thin the ranks. Still, UNC has some solid receivers in Erik Highsmith, who has yet to truly have a breakout game and TE Eric Ebron. Ebron, in particular, has shown some freak athleticism and is the kind of player who can go get the ball. UNC has the QB and personnel to make noise passing the ball and the UL passing defense is ranked 60th nationally after two games against Kentucky and Southwest Missouri State.
To some extent I expect the offense to function enough to give UNC a chance. The defense is a unit of which there are questions aplenty. The defense is currently in that "work in progress" state which is to say no one knows for certain what to expect. Wake Forest's Tanner Price picked the Tar Heel secondary with regularity despite struggling the week prior against Liberty. The Cardinals have a capable QB in Teddy Bridgewater and a running game which can move the football behind Senorise Perry. That kind of balance could create issues for a defensive unit that is still figuring itself out. Players acclimating to the new scheme is certainly a factor as is how effective the scheme itself can be with the personnel UNC has right now.
For UNC to win here, capitalizing on given opportunities is essential. Against Wake Forest, the Tar Heels settled for two field goals after failing to score a touchdown from the red zone. On defense, third down conversions for Wake Forest repeatedly haunted UNC and even when the Heels got stops, the offense didn't produce that killer drive that could have salted the game away. Louisville is a better team than Wake Forest so the margin of error will be thin. Possibly too thin.
Louisville 32 UNC 28