Carolina took a step forward towards the light last week in the bright noon sky against Duke last week. The offense still looked constipated at times, but the defense finally burst through, splattering Duke receivers in both halves. A lucky shot on the opening play of the second half (combined with some poor pursuit and missed tackles) was all Duke could do to get on the scoreboard.
What to make of this weekend’s opponent, Florida State? It’s tough to say. The Seminoles are wading through a historically terrible season, limping into Kenan Stadium with a 1-4 record, including an embarrassing loss to Jacksonville State at home. But if FSU is sinking, they could easily become quicksand for the Heels to step into, if they’re not careful. Here are three things to watch for this Saturday’s match-up a downtrodden Florida State team.
Ready to Run
Opponents are averaging 153.8 rushing yards per game against Florida State this season, and if you ignore their impressive showing against Notre Dame (the Irish only mustered 65 yards rushing in Tallahassee) that average jumps up to 175.8.
Carolina needs to hit around that figure, and hopefully Sam Howell doesn’t do the majority of the running. Ty Chandler’s slow start to the season (and a hiccup against Georgia Tech, not helped by three offensive turnovers) is beginning to crescendo as he hits midseason form. He finally looks more comfortable in UNC’s zone-blocking scheme and has been making the right reads and cutbacks to gain chunk yardage, putting pressure on the defense when Phil Longo pushes tempo and runs out plays quickly.
He’s also making plays in the passing game, giving Sam Howell another option to consider when he doesn’t lock on to Josh Downs. Look for Chandler to be a barometer for Carolina’s offense as a whole. If he’s clearing 100 yards rushing and scoring once or twice, the Seminoles are probably well and truly chopped.
Guess who’s back making trouble again?
What does Carolina hate more than anything? Running quarterbacks. And can you believe it? Jordan Travis is making moves again just in time to cause headaches in Chapel Hill. This kind of quarterback running is the stuff of my nightmares:
Travis has split time under center this season with McKenzie Milton, a more accomplished passer. His snap count has yo-yo’d as Milton’s pass attempts increased, but Milton was out against Syracuse, and Travis busted out against the Orange, rushing 19 times for 113 yards.
So now we’re back to where we were last season. Travis rushed 16 times for 114 yards and two touchdowns, stunning the Tar Heels in Tallahassee last season. Jay Bateman’s defense will need to be ultra-disciplined and hyper aware to navigate his threat. Des Evans and Tomon Fox can’t go balls to the wall for sacks, instead setting the edge and allowing Jeremiah Gemmel and friends to put him down for small gains.
One match-up to watch is Ja’Qurious Conley spying Travis. Since Jordan Travis is generally trash passing, Conley may be tempted to abandon coverage when he sees the Seminole break the pocket. If Conley can put his shoulder into Travis’s midsection enough times, the Tar Heels could have an easy afternoon.
Coming for that #1 spot
Josh Downs was recently graded as the #3 wideout in college football.
The top-4 WRs in College Football pic.twitter.com/swNP1AaIRh— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 5, 2021
That’s a little low in my opinion. Against an FSU defense that gives up 256 yards passing per game (against teams that don’t have passers as talented as Sam Howell) expect Downs to put up some show-stopping numbers.
Florida State does not have a corner that can contain him, and if they scheme to bracket or double-team Downs, watch Ty Chandler approach 100 yards on the ground.
I am (optimistically) forecasting 200 yards (receiving and returning) for Downs. Look for Howell to hit him early and often. Carolina have been at their best in the past two seasons when scoring on their opening drive. Longo and Howell may fixate on Downs to make that happen, and he has the goods to deliver all the way until Criswell takes over in the fourth quarter.