What: Meineke Car Care Bowl
Where: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC
When: Saturday, December 26th, 4:30 PM
Records: UNC 8-4, Pitt 9-3
UNC heads back to Charlotte for a second straight year, the by-product of bowl officials jockeying for a profit and the Heels' complete inability to take care of business in three different games. Change just on of those results, particularly the Thursday night game versus FSU, then UNC is playing somewhere else. What's done is done and while the location might be the same, the opportunity is as well. The Heels will be facing a very good Pitt team on national television, can registered the first nine win season in Chapel Hill since the Mack Brown years and collect the first bowl win since the beginning of the decade.
How are the Heels going to accomplish that? Defense baby. Pitt is a running team and UNC has shown they can shutdown a good running game. Just ask Ryan Williams. Pitt has a 1600-plus yards rusher in Dion Lewis who averages 5.5 yards per carry and has scored 16 TDs. Stopping Lewis puts the pressure on the passing game to deliver offense for the Panthers. That is not necessarily a negative for Pitt however. Panther QB Bill Stull has done an effective job all season limiting mistakes(only 8 INTs) and balances out the run game. Stopping the Panther run game won't necessarily derail the Pitt offense but it can put it out of balance and if the UNC defensive line can do to Stull what alumni Julius Peppers did to Brett Favre on this same field six days ago it will put the Heels at an advantage.
The question is whether the Heels can muster any kind of offense to back up the defense. Pitt sports a fairly decent defense on paper. The passing defense is the weaker aspect which probably does not work as well for UNC given the trouble T.J. Yates has finding receivers. Who knows, maybe Santa Clause brought Yates some mobility and passing accuracy for Christmas. Given the amount of time UNC has had to prepare for this game I would expect to see plenty of those deceptive plays such as putting Greg Little in motion and then handing off or maybe a pass or two from Bobby Rome. The more UNC is able to use plays that keep opposing defenses off balanced the easier it seems to be for them to get away with their glaring weaknesses.
Concerning the intangibles, Pitt is coming off two losses and the last one cost them a trip to a BCS bowl as the Big East champion. You always wonder in a situation like that if the Panthers will have the proper interest level. The same could be said for UNC since this is the 2nd time they have played in this bowl. One caveat for the Heels, especially on defense is this game could be a nice highlight reel for NFL scouts. That certainly was the case for Hakeem Nicks last season. The juniors on defense currently considering a jump to the NFL could help themselves with a huge game here. Also, the game is not sold out. Less than 50,000 is expected for a stadium seating over 73,000. I expect most of them will be wearing blue making this a de facto home game for the Heels.
UNC has enough riding on this one that showing up and not winning will be hugely disappointing.
UNC 28 Pitt 19