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UNC Football vs. NC State: X-Factor

In a season finale that has big implications on both sides, the Heels will need a much-maligned position group to get it together

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 11 North Carolina at Pitt Photo by Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

A key for the North Carolina Tar Heels offense is balance.

The program is able to brag on Josh Downs and Ty Chandler on their accomplishments this season:

When looking back at the game against Pitt, the lack of balance on offense hurt the Tar Heels in that valiant comeback effort. Sam Howell was mauled in the first half, and the late-game resurgence by the Pitt defenders kept UNC from winning the game rather than settling for a field goal.

Carolina’s 88 rushing yards versus Pitt were the second-lowest of the season. Their 63 yards on the ground in the loss against Georgia Tech were the fewest yards rushing in the Mack Brown 2.0 ear and the fewest since September 2017 against Louisville.

The Georgia Tech game remains a head-scratcher, especially for a Yellow Jackets run defense that is 11th in the conference. But the top-ranked run defense of Pitt was a known quantity.

The Tar Heels have that again this week. NC State is second in the ACC in total defense, and is one of the best defensive teams Carolina will face in 2021. The Wolfpack run defense is ranked third and their pass defense is ranked fourth in the conference. But most notably, NCSU leads the league in defensive pass efficiency and interceptions.

Friday night in Raleigh, the X-Factor for Carolina will be their offensive line. For UNC to be successful, the offense needs balance. Chandler must be productive, and the Howell needs to find some room in those designed runs.

More importantly for Howell, he needs time for routes to develop. Without the time for Carolina to create some spacing the secondary, the Wolfpack defenders may build on their league-leading defensive pass efficiency.

The guy can scramble, but the Tar Heels simply cannot afford for him to take hits all night, whether that is due to scrambling or the pocket collapsing. The latest injury report does not show any additions to the offensive line, although the careful balance between keeping guys fresh and unit cohesion remains an issue.

The offensive line has been a talking point all season. Friday night is the time to put a period on that sentence. Let’s see if the big guys step up.