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Preview: UNC vs Wake Forest

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Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

North Carolina vs Wake Forest, 7:00 PM, RSN

Two weeks ago, the Tar Heels rallied from a 21-0 deficit to knock off Georgia Tech in Atlanta for the first time since 1997. It gave the Heels a 1-0 start in ACC play and put UNC in position to make a run at winning the Coastal Division. The win was hailed as a turning point in Larry Fedora tenure affording him a much needed signature win.

Whether or not the win from two weeks ago was truly a watershed moment for the program is predicated heavily on what happens starting tonight versus Wake Forest. UNC had a bye week to allow the players to refocus on the task at hand. A win versus Wake Forest should continue to momentum and move the Tar Heels to 2-0 for the first time since 1997.

To do that, UNC is going to need to survive some serious attrition on the defensive side of the ball. The defensive line, which was struggling a full strength will be without freshman Aaron Crawford for the remainder of the season and Nazair Jones into the foreseeable future. Crawford was injured in practice last week and Jones is recovering from a leg injury suffered against Georgia Tech. The loss of two defensive linemen plus Tyler Powell being doubtful means Fedora may have little choice but to burn Jalen Dalton's redshirt.

Complicating matters for the defense is some self-inflicted trouble. UNC will be without CBs M.J. Stewart and Mike Hughes. The loss of Stewart will be keenly felt since he has been UNC's best defensive back so far this season with three interceptions and four pass break-ups. Hughes has been a key contributor at nickelback. The loss of both leaves UNC painfully thin across a defense that has acquitted itself well so far this season.

Wake Forest is not the sort of opponent where you want the defense to have issues mainly because of the Demon Deacons' ability to stop opposing offenses. Normally a little defensive trouble for UNC could be mitigated by the offense putting points on the board at an alarming rate. That might not be possible versus this defense meaning the Tar Heel defense is going to need to dig deep to ensure the Demon Deacon offense doesn't find a way to keep them in the game.

UNC has shown an inability to handle success over the long course of years since Mack Brown left. Even the arrests of Stewart and Hughes feels like more of the "two steps forward, one step back" that seems to constantly plague UNC football. Despite these missteps, UNC still has the chance to keep things moving in the right direct with a solid performance on the field.

UNC 35 Wake Forest 17