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UNC Football vs. Boston College: X-Factor

Can the Tar Heels shake off the rust after a two-week hiatus?

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Needless to say, the North Carolina Tar Heels are ready to get back on the field against an opponent. As of writing, it has been 19 days since a 31-6 victory over Syracuse.

As Max noted last week, it was like a mini offseason for Carolina. This is something head coach Mack Brown spoke about during his press conference this week, and there are pros and cons to this double bye week:

The positives are the the young guys that missed spring practice, or didn’t get as much work this summer, have had an extra week to work. Or really two weeks to work. So hopefully they’ll be more ready to play than they would have two weeks ago. Also, guys that were injured will be healthy for this game and they probably couldn’t have played an earlier game. I thought this morning about, “does it still hold true that you improve the most between your first and second game if there’s two weeks between them, and three weeks, between them?” And I think probably not, we’re starting over. We’ve got to completely start over. I think the reason you improve so much between game one and game two is you go right back to work, correct all your mistakes. And you’re back into full practice mode.

The extra time to heal has paid off for the Tar Heels. Sophomore offensive guard Joshua Ezeudu, who was slated to start at left guard against Syracuse, came down with a lower body injury before the season opener. Ezeudu will be back in the lineup against Boston College. For the position group with the biggest concerns about depth, this is good news.

There are three true freshmen, two redshirt freshmen, and one sophomore who are looking to gain the necessary experience to be a part of the rotation Brown desires on the offensive line. These two bye weeks will obviously help the offensive line, top to bottom.

One of the most critical pieces of the defense, senior safety Myles Wolfolk, was deemed academically ineligible and is no longer with the team. The announcement came after the cancellation of the Charlotte game.

Trey Morrison will move to the open safety slot. According to co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman, the defensive backs were already cross-training, so Morrison should adapt quickly to his new role.

As previously reported, Ja’Qurious Conley will move up the depth chart and move into the nickelback role. If the coaching staff moved quickly on this decision, Conley will end up with two weeks of practice with the first team defense.

On the flip side, could this down time revert the Tar Heels back to a Week 1 scenario?

Here are a couple points to consider:

  • Boston College likely downplayed their opponent last week and set themselves up for a tough week of practice in Chestnut Hill.
  • This is the first away game for UNC.

Brown noted in his radio show that when we was watching games this past weekend, there was “some ugly football, and especially in special teams.”

Some of that ugly football was Boston College, who was down 14 points to Sun Belt member Texas State before winning on a field goal with three seconds left in the game.

For the Tar Heels, two facets of the Syracuse game that needed polishing were penalties and special teams. Carolina had nine penalties for 91 yards against the Orange, while there were some mistakes on special teams with a missed field goal and fumbled punt return.

By all indications, these were addressed during the two bye weeks. However, nothing replicates live action against an opponent.

COVID travel will be different for the Tar Heels, and Brown explained those procedures this week. For anyone that has traveled with these enhanced safety precautions this year, the first time can be an experience that may be uncomfortable and can raise someone’s anxiety.

So far in the ACC, away teams are 4-9 this season. Will the Tar Heels have enough time to fall back into “normal” road pregame prep after a very different travel situation and focus on football when they arrive in Massachusetts?

This remains to be seen, but the fact remains that UNC has not played in two weeks. This extended break and its effects on the team are the X-Factor this week.

Can the Tar Heels shake off the rust and take care of business in their second game this season?