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UNC Football vs. Old Dominion: Game preview

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The Tar Heels hope to get back on track as they travel to Old Dominion on Saturday.

NCAA Football: California at North Carolina Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The 0-2 Tar Heels travel away from Chapel Hill for the first time this season. This weekend, they head to Norfolk, Virginia to face the 2-0 Monarchs from Old Dominion. The “Group of Five” school from Conference-USA welcomes only their second Power Five school since 2015, when NC State visited Foreman Field.

In July, Chad Floyd wrote an exceptional preview about the Monarchs. Head over there to refresh yourself with Old Dominion.

Old Dominion:

The Monarchs are 2-0 thanks to wins over Albany and Massachusetts. However, neither win was dominating in any fashion. Two quarterbacks have seen action (sound familiar?) in both games and the run defense has been incredibly strong.

In their 31-17 win over Albany, Old Dominion amassed just 285 total yards, 187 passing and 98 rushing, and committed THREE turnovers. Two of the touchdowns for Old Dominion were the result of big plays, which could spell bad news for the Carolina defense. The first was a 41-yard touchdown scamper by senior running back Ray Lawry. A 55-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Blake LaRussa to senior wideout Jonathan Duhart iced the game away. The Monarch defense allowed only 275 total yards (160 passing and 115 rushing) and had one interception.

Week 2 saw some tighter action for Old Dominion. Going into the 4th quarter, the Monarchs held onto a 10-7 lead over the UMass Minutemen. This time, it was JUCO transfer quarterback Jordan Hoy who put the game away. With less than seven minutes left to play, Hoy took a snap seven yards to pay dirt on a quarterback keeper and pushed the score to 17-7 and out of reach for the Minutemen. The offense seemed to find a rhythm as they racked up 366 total yards (169 in the air and 197 on the ground) and committed no turnovers. The defense gave up 332 totals yards (only 79 yards were from the rushing attack) and sacked the UMass quarterback EIGHT times.

Top performers for the Monarchs have been quarterback Blake LaRussa and running back Jeremy Cox (in the absence of Ray Lawry). Top wideout Jonathan Duhart broke his foot during ODU’s win over UMass and will likely miss the remainder of the season. Receiving duties will fall to Jeremy Cox and junior wideout Travis Fulgham.

North Carolina:

The Tar Heels limp into this game at 0-2 with home losses to Cal and Louisville. In both games, North Carolina seemed to be in a position to take control, but would eventually falter in the end. Two quarterbacks have seen considerable action and the offense has been surprisingly efficient. The defense, on the other hand, has given up too many big plays and has left many receivers wide open across the middle of the field.

In week one, the Tar Heels were favored to notch their first win over a Power Five opponent since 1997. However, Ross Bowers and company spoiled their party. North Carolina allowed Bowers to find his receivers at will while throwing for 363 yards on 24 completions. A bright spot seemed to be that the rushing defense had finally come into it’s own after years of being horrible as they only gave up 106 yards on the ground.

Offensively, Brandon Harris struggled in his debut completing less than 50% of his passes and adding two devastating interceptions. On the flipside, Chazz Surratt was quite inspiring in his performance finishing with 168 yards on 18 completions and two touchdowns (one passing, one rushing). Freshman running back Michael Carter shined as he rushed for 94 yards and a touchdown.

Week two brought in reigning Heisman Lamar Jackson and his Louisville Cardinals. The defense (Andre Smith) made a vow to not let Jackson run the show, but Jackson did just that. Accounting for 525 of Louisville’s 705 yards, Jackson showed why he should be a favorite to win back-to-back Heisman trophies. The defense continuously gave Jackson wide open targets. Even when it felt like the Tar Heels had finally stopped the onslaught, Jackson would take off on his own or would somehow find a receiver.

Both Surratt and Harris looked exceptionally well. Surratt was 12 of 14 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns before he seemingly got injured. Harris kept with that pace and finished with 17 of 23 passes for 216 yards and a touchdown of his own. However, the running game was nonexistent as Jordan Brown led with only 23 yards.

Final Analysis:

North Carolina comes into this game desperate to turn around their season and this game comes at the right time. A dominating win would boost the confidence of the younger players and reinvigorate the upperclassmen. Old Dominion isn’t going to let North Carolina have a repeat of the 80-20 lambasting that they took in 2013, though.

The Monarch defense will have its hands full with Carter, Brown, and whatever combination used at quarterback. Look for Carter to get back into his Week 1 shape and eclipse the 100-yard mark for the first time. Also look for Austin Proehl, Thomas Jackson, Brandon Fritts, and Carl Tucker to have big games.

The North Carolina defense will look to shore up the coverage issues in the middle of the field and continue to attack the quarterback. They have to stop Old Dominion from making the big plays that they allowed against Cal and Louisville, though. Can the linebackers and secondary atone for past mistakes and keep the Monarchs from making the big play?

Can Anthony Ratliff-Williams continue his hot streak on kickoff returns? Will he be able to take another one deep? If the defense stands tall, he won’t get those opportunities. I’m positive the coaching staff wouldn’t mind if that’s one area of the game we don’t see much.

North Carolina should win this game decidedly. That is, unless, they are mistakenly already looking ahead to their matchup with arch-rival Duke. If that is the case, Coach Fedora could have a mess on his hands. Even still, the Tar Heels should win this game. I’ve got the score at 41-21 with the Tar Heels getting back into a winning rhythm.