If memory serves, this is the third straight year I’ve written the preview for Carolina’s “SoCon Challenge Week” game. In those articles, I wrote about the importance of getting a win against a massively inferior opponent for the sake of getting a win.
This year is not much different, though Carolina’s Saturday tilt with Mercer has actual stakes. If the Heels win, they get to 5-6, or a win away from bowl eligibility. If they lose...man, whatever.
Instead of breaking down the matchups, we’re going to tell you about Mercer and I’m going to key in on some things the forward-looking Carolina fan should be watching.
Introducing the Mercer Bears
Mercer University is a private college located in Macon, Georgia (though they have a satellite campus in Northeast Atlanta. I knew that, because I thought that was their primary campus until about five minutes ago.) Its the oldest private university in the state of Georgia, and has an enrollment of roughly 4,500 people. So, two Wake Forests.
Coached by Bobby Lamb, the Bears are a disappointing 4-7 in this, their 9th year back participating in football after a 70-year hibernation. After a 10-2 record in the Pioneer League in 2013, Mercer has been the definition of average, going 6-6, 5-6, or 6-5 in each of the past five seasons.
Their offense is led by Tyray Devezin, a running back who has run for 949 yards at a 4.9-per-carry clip with 11 touchdowns, extremely inefficient (57% completions, 15-11 TD-INT ratio) quarterback Robert Riddle, and a balanced attack of receivers— David Durden, Tucker Cannon, and Yahsyn McKee each average over 14 yards per reception and at least 2.7 receptions per game.
Having not (and not planning to) watch Mercer, my impression is that, similar to Carolina, the pass game is chunk-or-nothing with a lot of play action. The run game appears to be zone read-based.
Oh, and be nice to Mercer. Recall, they were responsible for one of the more memorable Duke basketball collapses, beating them 78-71 in the first round of the 2014 NCAA Tournament.
Carolina Themes to Follow
Hate to say it, but this is a “get right and get healthy so we can go all-in on State” game. That feels gross.
Red Zone Production: I joked last week that Antonio Williams should’ve taken a dive at the Pitt 21 instead of getting tackled inside the 15 on his long run. At this point, I can no longer tell if its playcalling or execution, but the Heels need to go 100% on red zone scoring opportunities to restore some faith.
Go Up Big Early: Even the Georgia Tech game, which the Heels won 38-22, was moderately in doubt at points during the fourth quarter. As we all know, every other game on the schedule has been decided by seven points or less.
In keeping with the red zone theme, the Heels need to gash the Bears early and put whatever doubt may exist out of their minds. Let Javonte Williams eat, and push the ball downfield once Mercer safeties start to cheat.
I need 28-0 by the middle of the second quarter.
Watch For New Faces in Long-Term Homes
This is my single favorite aspect of the late-season FCS game. As opposed to getting geeked out over the freshman 3-star DB who has two pass breakups and a pick in week 1, we get to see a more finished product and dream about the small sample size all offseason.
Here are the true freshmen, and their participation based on my numbers:
- Guys who have already burned their redshirts, and thus should play as much as humanly possible: RB #23 Josh Henderson, OG #72 Asim Richards, WR #14 Emery Simmons, WR #17 Welton Spottsville, LBs #41 Eugene Asante & #8 Khadry Jackson, corner #20 Obi Egbuna, and Tomari Fox and Don Chapman, both of whom we’ve seen for extensive snaps on the defensive side of the ball.
- A guy who has played three games, and should play— but unfortunately not play the bowl game should the Heels reach: #27 S Giovanni Biggers
- Guys who can’t burn their redshirts: WRs #1 Khafre Brown and #83 Justin Olson, TE #88 Kamari Morales, O-linemen #71 Triston Miller, #51 Wyatt Tunall, and 55 Ty Murray (who may be injured), and D-linemen #98 Kevin Hester and #93 Kristian Varner. I expect the Hester/Varner/Tomari Fox trio to play a LOT on Saturday with Jahlil Taylor and Xach Gill.
That, of course, leaves out some familiar faces who we should hope get some burn: Jace Ruder, William Barnes, Corey Bell, and plenty more (though they would be higher in my consciousness if they had been playing). I’m especially hopeful to see Bell get some targets after making the switch from corner to receiver in the spring and disappearing from the depth chart.
Statistical Milestones to Follow
- Dazz Newsome has 817 receiving yards, and Dyami Brown has 714. With another Virginia-like performance from Brown, we could go into the State game with a chance of having two 1,000-yard receivers, something the Heels have never done.
- Sam Howell’s next touchdown pass will tie Mitch Trubisky for the single-season record of 30. He’s thrown at least two in every game this season.
- Chazz Surratt’s 5th tackle will be his 100th on the season. Not bad for a converted quarterback.
Umm, Heels 66-16?