Carolina faces State in the regular season finale on Saturday. The Heels have already booked a trip to their first ACC title game and have a shot at their first conference title since 1981. Carolina still has a lot on the line, the game against State is a good stage from which to impress in-state recruits every year and especially this year, when the Heels could secure an 11 win season. State is playing for pride, having already secured a bowl berth, and looking to prove they can hang with top teams. The Wolfpack have not beaten an FBS team to end the season above .500 in two years and are looking to make a statement in the rivarly game against the Heels.
The Wolfpack are led on offense by senior quarterback Jacoby Brissett. Brissett has been a bit down this year compared to last year. Brissett has seen his yards per attempt decrease while his completion percentage has gone up. This means that his passes are traveling much shorter this year than last season. Brissett also sees his ratings change drastically in wins compared to losses. In wins Brissett completes 68.3% of his passes for 7.8 yards per attempt. However, in losses Brissett only completes 56% of his passes for 5.4 yards per attempt. Brissett should serve as a good bell weather on Saturday, if he struggles then Carolina should be in position to win easily but if Brissett is sharp then the game should be a bit harder for the Carolina defense. Brissett's main weapon through the air is Jaylen Samuels. Samuels has 58 catches with more than double the next player on State's roster. Samuels is an every-down receiver for the Wolfpack, averaging 8.7 yards per catch but he is not as much of a deep threat. The Heels should be able to contain him with Des Lawrence and maybe some safety help over the top.
The Wolfpack have lost most of their running back depth to injury this season and they are now down to Reggie Gallaspy II. Gallaspy averages 4.6 yards per carry and has emerged down the stretch as a consistent runner with 5.2 yards per carry against conference opponents. The Heels will need to make a determined effort to prevent State from running over them like they did last year. Brissett is not much of a threat to run, he has averaged 1.9 yards per carry this year and the Heels may not need to devote a spy to Brissett, just be concerned with the running backs. That being said, Brissett did gash UNC for 167 yards last season though this is a completely different defense.
The Wolfpack's defense has been their calling card this season. They are the 13th best defense in the nation in terms of yards per game. Their defense is good against the run and the pass ranking 26th against the run and 21st against the pass. The Wolfpack are unique among strong defensive team in that they are good at both aspects of defense and not exceptionally strong at one part of the defense compared to the other. However this also means that the Heels can attack the Wolfpack in both parts of the game early and then stick with whatever they find to work.
Bring the Emotion:
The Heels have already secured their most successful season in nearly two decades and they could come out flat looking ahead to next week. The Heels need to come out on fire like they did against Duke in this game if they want any shot at the playoff. This is a situation where they can play an opponent Clemson also faced and blow them out, something Clemson was unable to do. Saturday's game is an excellent opportunity to make a statement seen around the country.
Take Away the Run:
The Wolfpack run on a significant majority of their plays. If Carolina takes away the run the this game become a lot simpler and easier for the Heels. Carolina should devote extra players to stopping the run and trust their corners to play good man to man defense against State's receivers.
Close Out Early:
Carolina faces the number one team in the nation next week and it would be great for the Heels if they can blow out State like they did Duke. If the starters can rest during the fourth quarter it could help out a lot against Clemson in the ACC title game. The Heels should show no mercy and build as big a lead as they can before letting their key players pick up some rest to help them have their best shot at an ACC title.