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UNC Football: Players to watch vs Duke

Carl Tucker looks to break loose as the offense finds its rhythm. What does the defense need to do?

California v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It’s too early for a rivalry game, especially when your rival is undefeated. It increases the difficulty exponentially when that rival is looking stronger than it has in many years by being 16th in total defense, 7th in yards allowed, 3rd in total rushing yards allowed, and 1st in rushing yards per game. On the offensive side of the ball, Duke is ranked 17th in total offense, 20th in yards per game, 14th in total points scored, and 17th in points per game.

The Tar Heels have their work cut out for them. Players all over the field will need to step up. Here are two players that will need to do just that to help bring the Victory Bell back to Chapel Hill.

Offense: TE - Carl Tucker

Brandon Fritts, the Tar Heels’ top tight end, did not travel to Norfolk, Virginia last weekend for Carolina’s victory over Old Dominion due to an undisclosed injury. That meant that Carl Tucker would get the bulk of the tight end snaps. He did not disappoint with his yeoman’s service in Fritts’ absence.

Coming into that game, Tucker had 3 catches for 21 yards. On Saturday, he doubled his catch total and almost quadrupled his yardage total. He now sits at six catches for 100 yards. (Compare that to his entire 2016 season when he had nine total catches for 130 yards as he filled in for an injured Fritts. Granted, there were other options on the field that took away receptions.)

It will be tough for Tucker against Duke. Through three games. the Blue Devils have only allowed five catches for just over 50 yards and no touchdowns to opposing tight ends. With the position being an integral part of the offense this season, look for Fedora to get the ball to Tucker when he can (in the first half, at least, but that’s a different story for another day). Look for Tucker to be lined up in multiple positions and used in multiple ways; on the line, in the H-Back, and at fullback. If the offensive line cannot give Surratt (or Harris) the time to get the ball to his first read, Tucker can be a big check-down safety valve.

Here’s a quick look at all of Tucker’s catches last weekend:

Defense: The Secondary (All of ‘em)

Yeah, yeah, yeah. This is kind of a cop-out, I know. That’s the thing with this secondary, though. We have no idea who will produce from week to week. Chad Floyd wrote about this before the Old Dominion game. The defense will need to find a way to stop Daniel Jones and company. However, the current trend has the Tar Heels sitting at 111th (out of 129) overall in Team Passing Efficiency Defense and 120th in Passing Yards allowed. Someone needs to step up.

Will M.J. Stewart live up to his preseason hype? Patrice Rene, Myles Dorn, Donnie Miles, K.J. Sails, and Corey Bell, have all shown flashes of brilliance. J.K. Britt had a few nice pass breakups last weekend. We even saw Myles Wolfolk get in on the action and come up with this crazy interception at Old Dominion:

It’s going to take more than a few flashes, though, to beat the Blue Devils. The Tar Heels will need to clean up the “catastrophic” plays, first. Roger Burton mentioned this in his article on Monday. Let’s look deeper into those catastrophic plays. I went through each game’s play-by-play and picked out what I felt were “catastrophic.” Those that went for 20 or more yards, or those that went for big gains on 3rd and 4th Downs.

The numbers are quite catastrophic:

Catastrophic plays.csv

California Louisville Old Dominion
California Louisville Old Dominion
Pass for 21 Pass for 21 Pass for 50
Pass for 26 Pass for 21 Run for 19
Pass for 67 (TD) Pass for 22 Pass for 25
Pass for 54 (TD) *Pass for 16 on 3rd and 2 Pass for 71 (TD)
*Pass for 18 on 4th and 1 Pass for 75 (TD) Run for 27
Pass for 20 (TD) Run for 43 (TD) Pass for 18 (TD)
*Pass for 16 on 3rd and 16 *Pass for 18 on 3rd and 8
Pass for 43 Pass for 21
*Pass for 12 on 3rd and 6
Pass for 21
Pass for 30 (TD)
Run for 74

This list list isn’t inspiring. There are 26 plays totaling 849 yards and eight touchdowns. From those 26 plays, there have been 19 that have gone for 20 or more yards. Seven of those were for touchdowns. Of those 19 plays, six of them were for 50 or more yards and four of those were for touchdowns. All of this averages out to nearly NINE catastrophic plays per game giving up nearly 300 yards and almost three touchdowns on those plays.

Ouch.

The Tar Heels sorely need a defensive back (or two, or three) to step up and shut down Duke’s top threats and force the Blue Devils to become a one-dimensional team.

A big statement in a rivalry game could go a long way in building the confidence that this secondary needs as it enters the thick of conference play.

Let me know in the comments who you think we should be keeping our eyes on!