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UNC Football vs. Western Carolina: Three Things to Watch

Making the most out of Senior Day.

Notre Dame v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

It will be quite the transition for the North Carolina Tar Heels, as the team goes from lining up against the second-ranked team in the nation to playing a winless FCS team.

No matter the opponent, Senior Day in Chapel Hill is always a special day. Rest assured, this team desires to end their 2020 schedule in Kenan Memorial Stadium on a high note.

Carolina should take care of business Saturday, so what are the keys for this game? Each of the final two games of the 2020 regular season have implications for the postseason and beyond, and Saturday is the first step in another strong finish to the season.

Building Depth

Last week against Notre Dame, the lack of experienced depth was plain to see in the second half. More help was needed on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary.

On Saturday versus the Catamounts, the Tar Heels should have opportunities to get plenty of players on the field for a significant number of snaps. For comparison, last season against Mercer, over 60 players stepped on the field for UNC. That was over 30 on each side of the ball.

There are over 80 sophomores, redshirt freshmen, and true freshmen on the roster. Outside of a handful of injuries, there are a lot of youngsters that will get some live action on Saturday. This is the factor in which Carolina is building for beyond the 2020 season. If UNC has the lead in hand, these young players can just go out and play. This situation will give the coaching staff a better measure of where they are in their development, rather than when they are thrown in critical situations because of an injury.

Live action reps are essential to individual development and team depth, and there is the potential to have many reps for a lot of players Saturday afternoon.

Pad the Stats

Last year against Mercer, it was 42-0 Tar Heels at halftime. In the rain last November, Michael Carter had a day with 159 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns. On just 10 completions, Sam Howell threw for 152 yards and three touchdowns.

On defense, Storm Duck burst on the scene with his first career interception, and the defense had nine tackles for loss and a pair of sacks.

All this is to say that the Tar Heel offense can continue with its high outputs and the defense can build some confidence heading to Miami next week.

More than likely, if the scoring margin is where the oddsmakers predict, the starters on both sides of the ball will only play the first half.

The team is made up of individual contributors, and if the team game is working against WCU, here are some individual stats that can be improved upon on Saturday.

  • Howell has a solid lead in the ACC for passing yards and touchdowns, but he is two-tenths behind Trevor Lawrence for overall QB efficiency in the league.
  • Javonte Williams barely holds the conference lead in rushing touchdowns with 15, and also leads the country in touchdowns from scrimmage with 18.
  • Dyami Brown is leading the conference in receiving touchdowns with eight, but it is a slim margin of one touchdown. Additionally, he ranks second in the conference in receiving yards, trailing Amari Rodgers by 34 yards.
  • Chazz Surratt is tied for the most solo sacks in the league with six.

Why not make the most of the day?

No one is advocating running up the score unreasonably, but there is nothing wrong with flexing your muscles just a little in the first half.

Playing for January 2

With the favorable ranking the Tar Heels received in the last College Football Playoff poll, there is an outside chance Carolina could land in the in the Orange Bowl on January 2, 2021.

This coveted spot in a New Year’s Six bowl requires both Clemson and Notre Dame advancing to the College Football Playoff, and the Tar Heels to beat WCU and Miami to close out the regular season.

UNC cannot control anything outside of the games they play, and the first game to a potential NY6 bowl is Western Carolina.

After the second half let down last week, and head coach Mack Brown’s reports of practice this week being “okay, not great,” chaos is always a chance when college students play football in the fall.

A replication of last season’s 56-7 win over Mercer is the ideal scenario for Saturday. Look back at what Brown said after that game last year:

The afternoon and night was exactly what we needed. We dominated the game. Our guys were ready to play. They took the game over early. The game was over at halftime, so we got to play basically everybody who was eligible on our team, which helps morale. And we didn’t get anybody hurt. So it was the perfect night for us.

The Mercer game was the start of three impressive wins to close out last season, and a jumping off point for the offseason and 2020 season.

A dominate win Saturday shows the College Football Playoff voters that the Tar Heels are serious, and a healthy margin of victory should keep them in the CFP poll when they travel to Miami next week.