UNC once again has an opportunity to exorcise some demons and win a marquee match-up. This Saturday the Tar Heels travel down to Florida State in a marquee cross-divisional contest. The two teams meet for the first time since a Tar Heel victory in that lost “what-if” season of 2010. That game, like this one, was played in Tallahassee. If history is going to repeat itself, it will likely be related to a few potential impact players.
Mitch Trubisky, QB
You probably should just permanently save a place Mitch Trubisky in this article. He has improved with every start, and continues to find new ways to impress fans. Last week, against a weak Pitt pass defense, he tossed five touchdowns and threw for 453 yards. It was his second 400+ yard passing game in a row. He also has yet to turn the ball over this season. (Everyone go knock on wood right now).
That final stat may take on a greater significance this week, as FSU’s secondary has forced six interceptions this season and only allowed seven touchdowns. There have been concerns in Tallahassee that the FSU defense is a little softer than anticipated, but six interceptions is nothing to sneeze at. Considering the lack of improvement inUNC’s running defense, this is shaping up to be another offensive slugfest. If UNC’s defense doesn’t rise to this challenge, UNC will need every single last possession to win this game.
Additionally, Trubisky possesses the ability to run. Lamar Jackson of Louisville ran circles around FSU because 1) FSU couldn’t decide to defend the pass or run and 2) Lamar Jackson is really good. In fact, the ‘Noles have faced significant struggles against the read-option this season. Trubisky can’t run like Jackson, but if he can stretch the defense enough to keep them honest or hesitant, then those downfield passing lanes will open up.
T.J. Logan, RB
Elijah Hood could just as easily fill this space, but the truth is Logan has been the more dangerous of the two. This can largely be attributed to the offensive line really struggling to open up running lanes between the tackles for Hood. Instead, Logan has found plenty of room to operate on the edges and on passing plays out of the backfield.
FSU has allowed 12 rushing touchdowns this season. Granted, seven of those were against Louisville. However, they still allowed South Florida to find the end zone four times on the ground while accumulating 290 yards. There are advantages for UNC to exploit, IF North Carolina decides to make the running game a priority.
Florida State is the perfect opponent for a player like Logan to find success against. They have struggled against smaller, shifty running backs the past two weeks. South Florida’s D’Ernest Johnson (5’10”, 208) had a 8-82-3 stat line last week. Louisville’s Brandon Radcliffe (5’9” 210) had 14-118-1 the week prior. T.J. Logan is 5’10” 190 and averaging 6.96 yards per carry.
Dalvin Cook, RB
This is just as obvious of a choice as Nick Chubb was for Georgia. Cook had actually struggled through the first three games, when he totaled just 50 carries, 228 yards, and two touchdowns. However, this past week he exploded for 28-267-2. Whatever was ailing him during the first part of September doesn’t look to be an issue as we enter October.
That does not bode well for a UNC team that has allowed rushing totals of 289 yds, 182 yds, 209 yds, and 289 yds. The good news is that UNC has allowed “only 4.98” yards per carry. Not great, but probably better than most expected. It helps (or hurts?) that Georgia, JMU, and Pittsburgh all ran the ball over 50 times in their games. The bad news is those totals include the yardage lost for QB sacks, which aren’t true running plays. So. There’s that.
Maybe the 5th time’s a charm?
Tarvarus McFadden, DB
I mentioned above about FSU’s secondary and their six interceptions. Leading the way is Tarvarus McFadden, with three. More noticeably, they have come in three separate games. So, he’s consistently harassing opposing QBs. He didn’t have a field day against a weaker Charleston Southern team (where has actually did not record an INT).
Standing at 6’2” and weighing 198 lbs, McFadden has the height and athleticism to cause problems for UNC’s wide receivers. He’s not as fast Mack Hollins or Ryan Switzer – USF Rodney Adams roasted him on an 84-yard touchdown pass. He does, however, have the size and match-up skills to make plays along the sidelines and specifically in the red zone. If Bug Howard had someone like McFadden guarding him on Saturday, UNC doesn’t win.
Austin Proehl, WR
Proehl has emerged as a precise route runner and a reliable fourth option in the passing game. Seven receptions, 99 yards, one touchdown, and one unforgettable do-or-die conversion has brought some increased attention to the junior wide receiver this week. It took a few games to find a grove, but hopefully the game at Pittsburgh was just an appetizer of what’s to come.
Quinshad Davis left a void in the offense when he graduated. Proehl has readily stepped in to fill that gap. Possessing a skill set unlike any other receiver on the squad, he’s just an additional wrinkle that can frustrate opponents. He’s a better route runner than Switzer, but not as explosive. He can’t stretch the field like Hollins, but may actually have better “hands”.
Most notably, while he’s not as much of a deep threat as the others, he can fill a vital role in the short and middle parts of the field. This would free up Switzer, who has often dominated that area, to stretch the field with Mack. If opposing secondaries decide to cover the deep ball, Proehl would be ready and waiting for 5-9 yard gains. Additionally, if linebackers decide to sink back in coverage to deny that fourth passing option, then running/passing routes are opened for Hood and Logan at the line of scrimmage.
The country may have been sleeping on Switz, Mack, and Bug before last weekend. Proehl is going to do his part to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Tallahassee in October would be a perfect time to make a lasting impression.