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UNC vs. Wake Forest: X-Factor

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The Heels’ dynamic backfield duo will be crucial in this matchup.

North Carolina v Virginia Photo by Ryan M. Kelly/Getty Images

The Tar Heels did not hold anything back against Duke this past Saturday (at least not until the game was decided), ultimately winning, 56-24. Coming off a disappointing loss to Virginia, this Carolina team played with a much greater sense of urgency facing its Tobacco Road rival. While the defense certainly played better than it has in recent weeks, it was the offense that played absolutely lights out.

Sam Howell and company were literally perfect in the first half, scoring six touchdowns on six drives en route to a 42-10 halftime lead. The final score really could’ve been worse were it not for the Heels taking their foot off the gas in the second half. Howell had a fairly typical day for him, going 18/27 for 235 yards, three touchdowns, and an interception. The deep balls were not there as often as they were against Virginia but that’s largely due to game scenarios as well as the next guy I’m going to talk about, Javonte Williams.

Williams rushed the ball 12 times for 151 yards for an absurd 12.6 yards per carry. He also added four total touchdowns on the day (three rushing and one receiving). The Blue Devils simply could not bring him to the ground as his big day moved him into a tie with Alabama’s Najee Harris for the most rushing scores in the country (14). Michael Carter contributed 17 carries for 85 yards (5.0 ypc). As they’ve done pretty consistently to teams this season, the backfield duo really wore down the Duke defense over the course of the game.

The Duke victory marks second time this year that the Heels have beaten up on an in-state foe following a loss. Consequently, they’ll be squaring off with another North Carolina team this Saturday at noon when Wake Forest makes the trek to Chapel Hill. I believe the X-factor in this matchup will be Carolina’s ability to get the run game established early and often, specifically with Javonte Williams.

While there are definitely plenty of valid complaints to be made about the defense, there also needs to be a recognition that there’s only so much that can be asked of that unit. With that being said, the offense possesses the weapons and versatility to do things to help its defense out. One of those things is pounding the ball through the tackles with Javonte Williams, who’s among the best in the country when it comes to falling forward for positive yardage. Williams enables you to establish those long, methodical drives that not only wear on opposing defenses but allow your defense to stay fresh and really put pressure on teams.

Moreover, Wake Forest has struggled to defend the run this season. They’re currently giving up 192.4 rushing yards per game, which ranks 91st in the country. They’re also giving up 4.9 yards per attempt, which is good for 99th in the country. Even in a convincing win over Syracuse, the Demon Deacons gave up 101 yards on 18 carries (5.6 ypc).

Meanwhile, Javonte Williams has run the ball 107 times for 767 yards (7.2 ypc) while scoring more points (102) than anyone else in college football. The Heels should be expecting a fight from a Wake Forest team that’s currently riding a four-game winning streak. The Demon Deacons are going to put up points more likely than not, so Carolina will look to Williams and Carter to control the tempo and game flow in this one.