Coach Fedora and the Tar Heels got back on track last Saturday in Champaign. Mitch Trubisky settled into his starting role at quarterback much more comfortably. The defense performed well despite still having the nasty habit of conceding big plays. The whole team showed some resolve to win what could have been a difficult away game following the disappointing loss to Georgia.
Now, Carolina is back home in Chapel Hill and ready to face off with FCS stalwarts James Madison. With all due respect to the Dukes—a regular contender in the FCS—this game is the perfect opportunity for UNC to work out some kinks on offense and shore up their defense. Here are two players that should have a significant impact Saturday afternoon at Kenan Memorial Stadium.
James Madison Player to Watch: Quarterback Bryan Schor
If James Madison is going to pull off the upset, it’ll be because their offense is keeping pace with UNC’s. So far, the Dukes have put up a lot of points, scoring 136 points in two wins against weaker competition. Junior quarterback Bryan Schor is the catalyst behind those notable offensive performances.
Schor, standing 6’2”, is effective both throwing and running the ball. Through the first two games of the season, he has three passing touchdowns and three rushing touchdowns. His ability to scramble for large chunks of yardage will be a challenge for the Heels defense. UNC’s difficulties with stopping the run are well-known at this point, but a mobile quarterback is something they’ve yet to face this year.
That’s not to say that Schor isn’t an efficient thrower either. His completion percentage is at a stellar 78.1% currently. North Carolina will have to force him to make long throws. If the Heels sit back and let Schor dink and dunk down the field with the added threat of him busting a long run, it could be a frustrating afternoon.
James Madison also had three players, including Schor, rush for over 100 yards in a game against Morehead State. The Dukes might just be the deadliest in all of FCS at running the ball, and UNC shouldn't take them lightly. By stopping Schor and the running backs, Carolina can begin to improve that part of their defense, just in time for a matchup against run-heavy Pitt.
UNC Player to Watch: Running back Elijah Hood
I know, I know. Everybody in Chapel Hill knows just how electric Elijah Hood can be, but he hasn't met the massive amounts of preseason expectations yet—T.J. Logan has been stealing the limelight. A game against an FCS opponent is the perfect opportunity for him to get a load of carries in the first half and hopefully boost his yards-per-carry average before resting the final quarter or so.
Hood has just 25 carries in two games thus far. He played decently against Georgia but don’t let the two rushing touchdowns and 88 yards against Illinois confuse you. 62 of Hood’s yards in that game came on one dominant run—one where he made one guy miss and used his breakaway speed to find the end zone. If you take away that run? Hood finishes with 14 carries for 26 yards. That’s an atrocious yards-per-carry average, and Hood needs to get back to the consistency he had last season.
Against similar competition last year, Hood surprisingly struggled (56 yards against North Carolina A&T, 61 against Delaware). Trubisky seems to be growing with his wide receivers each week, and the last component to replicating 2015’s offense is a steady ground game. Yes, a 62-yard run by Hood is tremendous, but Hood getting seven yards every time out is something much more sustainable and can positively affect the rest of the season.
Lastly, this is a player to watch section, so Hood makes sense here because he truly is a thrill to witness. Even when he was getting stuffed against Illinois, he was able to break away out of nowhere and essentially end the game. In a matchup that promises to be high-scoring, Hood should be able to add some more spectacular plays to his highlight reel.