The next hurdle in Carolina’s schedule comes tomorrow as the Tar Heels travel up I-40 to Winston-Salem. This game is a non-conference contest against an ACC opponent that moved from their original location that they were named for to their current location in Winston-Salem. It’s also a college football game being played at 6 PM on a Friday night. Not confusing at all.
To say fans are ecstatic that Carolina enters this game 2-0 is an understatement, as the tone of the 2019 season has completely changed. Tomorrow night has a chance to be another fun game, but the fun level will be higher if the Tar Heels can leave 3-0. Here are three things to look for in the game against the Demon Deacons.
Is this when Sam Howell hits the wall?
This is a continuation of last week’s question, when will they let Howell off the chain? In the first two drives against Miami it sure seemed like Carolina had done just that, as the Tar Heels scored 17 quick points and the offense was humming. Then everything came to a grinding halt. It wasn't until the last drive that the offense woke up again, and again, Howell showed the amazing talent he brought to Chapel Hill.
That performance has to increase the confidence the staff has to let Howell go for longer stretches, but there’s a counter to that. Wake was able to snag three interceptions in their first game against Utah State, and while they didn’t get any against Rice last week, it’s only a matter of time before Howell hits that freshman wall. The Deacons also have two weeks worth of game film of both the offense and Howell to study and scheme for, and the Tar Heels will also be without center Nick Polino this game. There are those who couldn’t help but to notice that offensive halt happened when Polino exited the game.
Will we see more of the last drive or all of the second and third quarter drive? It all depends on how Howell handles the change and what the coaches let him do.
The secondary will be tested
This Wake Forest offense has been ringing up points in both of their games to this point. They have scored in every quarter they have played in so far, rushed for over 180 yards in each game, and passed for well over 300 in each game. Redshirt junior quarterback Jamie Newman has looked poised in leading the Demon Deacon attack, and he is yet to give the ball to the other team. Just to make things even more fun, Newman rushed six times last week and 21 times against Utah State. He also has a 70-yard pass and a 51-yard pass on his resume this year.
He’s arguably the toughest quarterback that the secondary has faced so far this year, and the Tar Heels are going to have to do it without Patrice Rene. We’ve had a taste of what they look like without Rene in the first half of the South Carolina game, and that taste was pretty sour. Freshmen Storm Duck and Cam’Ron Kelly will likely see more time to cover for this big loss, but how will they handle the seasoned Wake quarterback? Look for Wake to continue to try and air it out, hoping that the combination of the short turnaround and missing senior will mean plenty of points for them.
Is this when special teams costs the Tar Heels a game?
Carolina has flirted with giving up a game because the special teams unit puts the defense in a hole. Against South Carolina, punt and kick coverage couldn’t minimize the returns, and against Miami Ben Kiernan decided that averaging 27.5 yards a kick would be a great way to limit those returns. You can flirt with disaster only so many times before you hit the iceberg, and you can bet special teams will matter in this one. It doesn’t help that Wake’s punter, Dom Maggio, has averaged well over 40 in each game when he’s hit the field, and Wake’s unit has yet to allow a long return.
Mack mentioned in his press conference earlier in the week that they may have asked too much of Kiernan in terms of not only kicking, but aiming his kicks to particular areas. If they just let Kiernan kick, he can at least get whatever he had in his system against Miami out of it. Hopefully, Carolina’s offense will be successful enough to where Kiernan will barely be needed.