Quick Lane Bowl: North Carolina vs Rutgers, 4:30 PM, ESPN
The Tar Heels will attempt to end a roller coaster season on a high note in the Quick Lane Bowl against B1G foe Rutgers. UNC will also be looking to finish with a winning record for a seventh straight season(vacated wins not withstanding) and collect a second straight bowl win which hasn't happened since the Mack Brown era.
Given the preponderance of bowl games at this point the question is asked what is the virtue of playing in this type of game. The short answer is there probably isn't much of one but that does not mean there isn't some value. The seniors on the team would love to win their last game as Tar Heels and Larry Fedora needs some sort of positive momentum going into next season even if it is in a bottom of the barrel bowl game.
This game will be the first time anyone(outside the team) has seen Marquise Williams or Ryan Switzer in live action since both left the loss to NC State with injuries. Williams was hit several times by the Wolfpack defense eventually leaving the game with what was later determined to be leg contusion. Switzer took an illegal hit attempting to field a punt and looked serious injured when he was being helped off the field. Both players are said to be fine now.
Williams had an outstanding season and was named 2nd Team All-ACC but struggled in the final game versus NC State. Returning him to form will be critical for UNC's chances at winning this game as will getting significant production out of the running game. Sophomore running back T.J. Logan came on late in the season to provide production in the running game that had mostly been coming from Williams. Freshman running back Elijah Hood had one carry in the season finale, his first action in almost two months after leaving the loss to Notre Dame with a knee injury. This game likely has little bearing on next season as far as the running backs go but it is worth noting which player UNC leans on most here or if it will be a matter of which one produces.
As for Ryan Switzer, this game constitutes his last shot at getting a punt return for a touchdown this season. After the five touchdown returns last season it was expected the task would be tougher for Switzer this season. Opposing teams made adjustments and not many of them were content to simply let Switzer get clean looks. Switzer being completely shut out is a bit of a surprise. Rutgers didn't see many returns on the season, 23 in 12 games or 1.9 per game. On those returns opposing teams got about 8 yards per return which is 69th nationally.
On the defensive side UNC has seen the coach in charge of the defense depart for another job. Vic Koenning, who's defense bled profusely all season long, left to take the same job at Troy. While Fedora is still working out who will replace Koenning, for the bowl game it is defensive coordinator Dan Disch. After Koenning's departure there was some discussion of dumping the 4-2-5 defense in favor of a more traditional look. That won't happen for the bowl game since there was little time to make a change of that magnitude. However it will be interesting to see if there are any notable changes in how the defense operates in terms of player motivation and overall execution. Ten practices aren't enough time to make wholesale changes but certainly could afford Disch an opportunity to correct some glaring errors.
The raw numbers for this game point to yet another shootout where UNC may need the ball last to win. Barring that a very quick start and a couple of Rutgers turnovers could get momentum rolling early and carry the Heels into the offeseason on a high note.
UNC 42 Rutgers 35