It is do or die for the North Carolina Tar Heels this week. With a loss this week, UNC will not be bowl eligible (unless something even more crazy happens this season) and it will be another long winter in Chapel Hill. A win keeps those slim hopes alive, but there will be a lot of things that need to go right for a win in upstate New York on Saturday.
Can the Offense Finish?
If ever a time the Heels needed the high-flying Larry Fedora offense, it is this week versus Syracuse.
Here is a brief summary of the first half offense for UNC last week versus Virginia Tech:
- Field Goal
- Field Goal
- Missed Field Goal
- Turnover on Downs
- Field Goal
And the Tar Heels led 9-7!
Carolina finally scored a touchdown in the second half, but out of the seven trips to the red zone, that was the only one that resulted in seven points.
The Tar Heels are just a shade from being in the basement of the league in average scoring. They must find ways, including on defense and special teams, to score seven and not settle for three.
With Nathan Elliott likely back under center after the injury to last week’s starter Cade Fortin, the junior quarterback must find a way to get the offense into the end zone.
Will the Defense Disrupt the Syracuse Offense?
With the offense’s chronic issues, especially the question marks under center, how can the defense help the cause Saturday?
The Orange are the highest-scoring team in the ACC and are undefeated at home this season. In the Carrier Dome, Syracuse is outscoring their opponents 143-38.
The obvious focal point for the Carolina defense will be Eric Dungey. The dual-threat senior quarterback has smoked opponents inside the Carrier Dome using both his arm and legs. He has thrown for over 1,200 yards this year and is Syracuse’s leading rusher with 435 yards on the ground.
Dungey’s most impactful target is senior wideout Jamal Custis. Custis is averaging over 17 yards per reception and has logged 430 receiving yards and three TDs on the season.
Moe Neal, a Gastonia, N.C. product, has been effective on the ground in the dome. On the season, the junior running back is averaging 4.7 yards per carry. In the Carrier Dome, he is moving the ball at 6.4 yards a rush.
The defense did plenty to keep the Tar Heels in the game last Saturday night against VT, including four sacks and two interceptions. But they will need a lot more of this with the Orange’s effectiveness in the Carrier Dome.
Hang on to the Ball
Antonio Williams’s fumble on the first play of the game led to the first Virginia Tech touchdown of the game and a Michael Carter fumble on the VT two-yard line set up an 18-play, 98-yard drive that propelled the Hokies to a victory in the closing seconds of the game.
These fumbles were not only costly on the scoreboard, but demoralizing to the team and fan base. Unfortunately, these errors have overshadowed a tremendous 165-yard rushing performance from Carter.
Simply put, the Tar Heels cannot have any self-inflicted wounds. If the running back corps can hang onto the ball and Elliott is able to get the ball to his playmakers out wide without incident, UNC may have a shot.