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UNC Football vs. Florida State: Three Things to Watch

The fifth-ranked team in the country still is working to improve each phase of their game.

Virginia Tech v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Did you ever expect a mid-October game against Florida State football in Tallahassee to be a trap game? Like many things in 2020, the script is flipped. The North Carolina Tar Heels face off against a traditional ACC football powerhouse as the clear favorite with much more to lose than gain.

The excellence on offense last week was nearly counteracted by the inconsistency on defense. With injuries and depth a concern this Saturday, the defense must step up against an opponent that has the talent on paper to put up points.

The Tar Heels have an opportunity to build on their two-game winning streak against Florida State, and although this is no “Judgement Day,” Carolina needs to handle their business as the weight of a top five national ranking feels heavier with each passing day.

As UNC seeks to maintain their undefeated record during a primetime national broadcast Saturday, here are three things to watch during the game versus the Seminoles.

Penalties

Earlier in the season, head coach Mack Brown looked at the nine penalties during the opening game and the 10 penalties second game after a long hiatus as a result of no spring practice and a training camp like no other.

However, after their second 10 penalty game in a row, Brown expects more discipline from his football team. Here is how Brown addressed the issue in his press conference Wednesday:

It’s there, it’s real, it’s ugly. And I told the guys, “we can’t be considered a disciplined team with a bunch of penalties.” I said, “we act like we are and we’re not having turnovers, but come on, man.” So we have officials at every practice. We have them call every penalty, and we document every one of them. We show it to them on video. And the penalties you have in practice are the ones that show up in a game.

The number of penalties and the number of yards allowed are not sustainable if the Tar Heels wish to reach the maintain their undefeated season and national ranking.

In a game against a underperforming opponent, penalties help keep them in the game. To avoid the upset, Carolina must be more disciplined Saturday night.

Putting Together Four Quarters

After a score on the first drive of the season, a dismal second quarter by the offense against Syracuse kept the game within four points at halftime. At the end of the first quarter against Boston College, the Heels were up 14-3, but then only carried a 21-16 lead into the locker room.

A commanding 35-14 halftime lead versus Virginia Tech was whittled to a five-point margin when the fourth quarter started. After the Syracuse win, Brown scoffed at the criticism of one bad quarter in a victorious game.

However, after the letdown last week in the third quarter against Virginia Tech, the tune needs to change. That type of major shift in performance could have been disaster last week, and it could cost UNC a victory in the future.

The third quarter defensive performance was addressed directly by co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman this week, and he took the blame for the lack of schematic changes in response to VT’s adjustment in play calls.

It is unrealistic for the Tar Heels to play perfect each quarter. But Carolina must avoid large swings and imbalance when momentum shifts.

The good news, as evidenced by the wins against Boston College and Virginia Tech, is that UNC has found a way to win the games that were lost last season.

Avoid the Trap

Even after giving up 45 points last week, UNC remains sixth in total defense in the ACC. Their offense also sits at sixth in the league, even with playing solely against conference opponents.

Florida State is dead last in the ACC in both categories. These rankings includes the statistics in their lone 2020 victory over Jacksonville State. In other words, the 14-point spread in favor of UNC is justified, if not smaller than some partisans may have expected. With NC State on the horizon next week, it may be tempting for the Tar Heels to look ahead to their in-state rival.

Despite their struggles and inconsistency this season, the Seminoles have talent throughout the lineup. If their quarterback carousel stops this week, sophomore Jordan Travis may find some rhythm with FSU’s talented receiver corps.

With flashes of excellence in the first game of the season, Florida State’s defense has the capacity to cause turnovers and make plays on special teams. These two are among the key ingredients for any upset. Add to this equation that there will be fans in the stands at Doak Campbell Stadium, and the game will have a primetime national telecast.

The Tar Heels can make a positive statement this week, but only if they focus on the task at hand.