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UNC Football vs. Louisville: Game Preview

The Tar Heels look to spring an upset over the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.

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

Alright, last week is done. The Golden Bears are back in Berkeley, and a big opponent rolls into Chapel Hill to take their place on Saturday. Lamar Jackson and the #17 Louisville Cardinals fly into Kenan at Noon to take on the Tar Heels. Carolina will look to build off their mistakes last week and surprise everyone in their ACC opener.

Louisville Cardinals

This week is the exact opposite of last week, in that you know the coach, you know the scheme, and you know the quarterback. Bobby Petrino is four years into his second stint at Louisville, and the quarterback is only the reigning Heisman Trophy winner, Lamar Jackson.

After flirting with the Playoffs in 2016, Louisville lost their last three. Houston sacked Jackson eleven times in their 36-10 win. Kentucky managed to get four turnovers, including a game deciding fumble, in their upset win. LSU...well, they just pummeled their way to the bowl win. By the end of the year, opponents had figured Louisville out.

Their opener to 2017 was almost a continuation of the theme. Purdue was predicted to finish near the bottom of the Big 10, but the Cardinals had to squeak out a one score win in Indianapolis. Purdue wouldn’t go away, and it took a Herculean effort by Jackson (378 yards passing, 107 yards rushing, 2 TDs) plus a Pick 6 by the defense to get the win. The defense had 3 total interceptions on the day, but they also gave up four passing touchdowns to two different quarterbacks.

Petrino, happy for the win, has stressed that he wants his tailbacks to be more involved. The non-Jackson rushing only accounted for 41 yards of offense, and Petrino has to be licking his chops at the Carolina defense that historically has had trouble against a decent rushing attack. With the line having to account for Jackson, look for the tailbacks to be more involved.

The Louisville defense can be scored on, giving up an average of almost 24 points per game last season, meaning there are openings for Carolina to exploit. What will help whomever is under center will be that Jaire Alexander, one of Louisville’s key corners, was hurt against Purdue. If he plays, he likely won’t be anywhere near 100%. They added four sacks to their three interceptions, so pressure will be coming.

Jackson is the obvious reason why Louisville won last week. The yardage is amazing enough, but dig a little deeper and you realize just how much Jackson controlled the game. He was 30/46 passing, and attempted 21 rushes. Do that math, and that means an amazing sixty-seven plays directly involved Jackson attempting to gain yards, and Purdue didn’t sack him once. His outstanding performance, to some extent, got lost in the great games from last weekend.

North Carolina Tar Heels

Will Fedora stick with one quarterback? That’s the question after last week’s rotating cast of Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt. Coach hasn’t answered that question yet, and likely isn’t going to tip his hand ahead of Saturday. Petrino has already acknowledged they are preparing for both, so it’s doubtful that Fedora will give him any help on that end. That said, the offense ran better under Surratt so it’d be shocking to not at least see him start the game.

Look for the running backs to get even more play here, as both Jordon Brown and Michael Carter showed their ability in the backfield. Fedora likely studied that LSU game where the backs wore down the Cards and ran away with the game. Remember, LSU won that game with Fornette famously sitting out, and Purdue didn’t have anyone nearly as talented as either back to throw at the Cardinals. If they are successful, it could lead to the receivers having a little more room to operate.

The defense, frankly, has their hands full. Especially troubling last week...well not just last week...was how often they weren’t able to wrap up the quarterback for the sack. This cost them multiple plays with big plays when receivers were able to break away from the secondary. Jackson could easily have a field day, as he has no fear about breaking the pocket and making plays with his legs. It’s important for the defensive front, led by Andre Smith, to complete the sacks they started. The secondary led by MJ Stewart then has to keep on the receivers as Jackson scrambles. This week, they have tape to study, so look for them to try to bottle up the rushing attack and force Jackson into airing it out.

As Jackson showed last week, you still have your work cut out for you, but at least you have a chance.

Final Thoughts

Louisville will win if they

  • Have Jackson play a game like he did last week, and throughout most of 2016
  • Keep either of UNC’s QB’s from getting into any sort of rhythm.
  • Limit their mistakes

UNC will win if they

  • Force Jackson into rushing plays and making mistakes
  • Allow their rushing attack to help their QB’s find a rhythm and keep the ball on offense
  • Can recover from the likely knockout blow Louisville will try to throw.

Last week saw both teams put forth a sub-par effort, but that Louisville effort was still better than the one Carolina put up. To have any chance at all, Carolina has to see a similar game from Louisville and significantly step up their game. It’s tough to see that happening, but this game likely tells us a lot more about 2017 than last week.

See you at Noon, Saturday.