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UNC Football: All eyes will be on the defensive secondary

This Friday, the Carolina secondary must step up to the challenge.

NCAA Football: South Carolina at North Carolina Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

The big win over Miami Saturday night in Chapel Hill came at a cost with the announcement of injuries to seniors Patrice Rene and Nick Polino. Polino may be able to return at some point this season, however Rene is done for the year with a torn ACL.

This is a blow to a North Carolina Tar Heels team that is shallow on depth and will miss the key contributions of their starting senior cornerback.

In his press conference on Monday, head coach Mack Brown had this to say about Rene’s injury:

As excited as we are about the win, we’re disappointed for Patrice Rene. He’s worked so hard and he played so well for us at corner and he’s out for the year. He does have another year because he did not redshirt, so he’ll have a decision to make whether he wants to rehab and come back for his fifth year or whether he will graduate in December. He could go ahead and try to get drafted or apply to the NFL or he could go out in the business world. We do want him back if he wants to come back.

In Rene’s absence, who will step up for the Tar Heels?

Against Miami, Greg Ross and D.J. Ford stepped up and each had four total tackles. Expect Ross to make the start on the corner opposite Trey Morrison.

Two more names that Tar Heel fans will grow to know at corner are true freshmen Storm Duck and Obi Egbuna. These two players were identified by defensive coordinator Jay Bateman on Monday as being in the rotation in the defensive backfield.

The return of linebacker Dominique Ross last week proved to be a help in coverage. He and Morrison were the only Tar Heels to knock down any passes against Miami.

The challenge this week will be handling a capable Wake Forest passing attack that has had some success this season, albeit against Utah State and Rice.

No matter how you slice it, the Demon Deacons are averaging nearly 40 points and 546 yards of offense, including an average of 364 passing yards, through two games.

Wake Forest’s junior quarterback Jamie Newman has thrown for 713 yards through the first two games this season. More impressively, he has completed almost 75 percent of his passes while throwing six touchdowns and no interceptions.

Newman’s passing efficiency rating is 182.0, good for 15th in the nation. The sits right behind Sam Howell’s 182.9 passing efficiency rating.

You can expect Newman to go for some deep balls on Friday, unlike Jarren Williams for Miami on Saturday. Newman has the confidence, capability, and weapons to do so.

His top two targets are Scotty Washington and Chazz Surratt’s brother Sage. The first thing you notice about these wideouts are their size. The senior Washington towers at 6’5” while the younger Surratt stands 6’3”.

NCAA Football: Utah State at Wake Forest
Wake Forest Demon Deacons wide receiver Scotty Washington (7) attempts to catch a pass against Utah State Aggies cornerback DJ Williams (7) during the first quarter at BB&T Field.
Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports

Each of these receivers rank in the top 20 in the nation in receiving yards. Washington has brought in 11 receptions for 204 yards and three touchdowns, and Surratt has caught 13 passes for 203 yards and two touchdowns.

Both of these receivers took home ACC Receiver of the Week honors. Surratt did so in Week 1 and Washington is the defending honoree from last weekend.

Unlike previous seasons, do not expect the Tar Heels to encourage a track meet between two high octane offenses. The mindset has changed in Chapel Hill and the Carolina coaching staff will be looking to win defensive battles and slow down the Wake Forest attack.

Two players that will be relied upon for their leadership and performance will be Myles Dorn and Myles Wolfolk. However, even though they were all over the field Saturday night, they cannot be solely depended on the carry the weight in the defensive backfield.

There is a tremendous challenge on Friday night. Who will be the X-factor for UNC? It is time for a Tar Heel to step and make a name for himself, whether it is Ross, Ford, Duck, or Egbuna.