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UNC Football: Looking ahead to the Sun Bowl, back at FSU

Carolina already played a ranked team with talented running back this season. How can they replicate the result?

North Carolina v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

The name “Nick Weiler” will go down in history in Chapel Hill. So will this photo:

North Carolina v Florida State Photo by Jeff Gammons/Getty Images

It’s nice to remember this game at a time like this. Carolina football, after dropping two out of three games to end the regular season, received a less than thrilling bowl bid on Sunday afternoon. Coupled with a lengthy trip to El Paso for the Sun Bowl will be a matchup with #18 Stanford. A tall order. So, you’re welcome for posting this photo, and brining back the memories of this Conner Barth-esk stunner. However, remembering their game in Tallahassee will do more for this Carolina team than make them feel good. It might help them beat Stanford on December 30th.

UNC came to Tallahassee 3-1 and 1-0 in the ACC, looking to make some noise and continue their momentum. A 0-1 Florida State team was looking to get their ACC play back on track after getting embarrassed by Louisville two weeks prior. Carolina was facing a ranked opponent, a quality coach, and an explosive running back. They won. They weathered the storm, and found a way to win with four seconds left.

So, how similar could this game at Florida State potentially be to the Sun Bowl matchup with Stanford?

Against Florida State, Carolina got off to a hot start offensively, and took some pressure off of the defense. This was huge for their confidence, and probably offered some motivation to keep the lead. FSU and Stanford, while good teams, have average defenses. They have given up 357 and 366 yards per game respectively, like you might expect from any other team. Against a high powered Washington offense, Stanford crumbled 44-6. While the Carolina offense isn’t quite up to par with Washington, I think everyone agrees that UNC has the ability put some points on the board. If Carolina can put some early pressure on the Stanford defense like they did in Tallahassee, it could bode well for them late in the game.

It would be an understatement to say that Christian McCaffrey be the focus for the Tar Heel defense in the coming weeks. McCaffery has 13 touchdowns and over 1600 yards on the season. He’s ranked 7th nationally in rushing yards, right behind, you guessed it, Florida State’s Dalvin Cook. Now, when Carolina faced Cook earlier in the season, they didn’t exactly “shut him down.” However, he didn’t have a fantastic game either. He had three touchdowns, but they were all shorter than ten-yard runs. The Heels didn’t really give up a big play to Cook, his longest carry being only 14 yards.

The UNC defense also held him to 4.8 yards per carry, well below his average of six on the season. Containing McCaffery will be a challenge, just like it was for Cook. In three games he’s been held under 100 yards, and Stanford went on to lose each one. Therefore, if the Carolina defense can hold McCaffery to an average game or worse, it will give the team a chance to be competitive.

Finally, this Sun Bowl game will be about managing expectations. Coach Fedora mentioned briefly after the FSU game that nobody gave the Heels a chance in Tallahassee. This will likely be the case against Stanford later this month. Against Florida State, the Heels played inspired football and gave themselves a chance late in the game. Nick Weiler made that field goal because he knew he was going to, and because he had his team behind him. Carolina will need to summon this same sentiment in El Paso. Stanford being a ranked, quality program going against a declining UNC squad will make for a lot of pessimism for Carolina. Good defense and better offense will help, but they can’t win without believing.