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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Three Things to Watch

The season is on the line for the Tar Heels.

North Carolina v Notre Dame Photo by Justin Casterline/Getty Images

With such a frustrating and disappointing loss on Saturday night, the North Carolina Tar Heels season now hangs in the balance.

Here’s the rundown:

  • UNC must win two of the next four to reach that low bar for bowl eligibility.
  • Three of the four opponents remaining on the schedule are ranked.
  • It just so happens this is the second to last home game, and the Tar Heels winless on the road this season.

To put it plainly, this is the most pivotal game of 2021 for UNC.

Here what to look for when Carolina faces long-time Big Four rival Wake Forest in the second game of their nonconference series.

Where Does the Defense Go From Here?

Coming off a big 33-yard touchdown pass from Sam Howell to Antoine Green to bring the Tar Heels back to within four points late in the third quarter against Notre Dame, UNC got our attention.

The subsequent three-and-out forced by the Carolina defense gave us some hope.

Then the Howell punt (yes, the quarterback) in Notre Dame territory left us scratching our heads.

On the next play, when Kyren Williams was hit for a five-yard loss, but somehow broke free for a 91-yard touchdown, we were brought back to reality.

As been repeated by every medium that covers the Tar Heels, there has to be changes on defense. And they do not mean with the players.

With an extra week to get ready, UNC was woefully unprepared for a Notre Dame offense that previously just above average.

What will happen this week against the high-flying Demon Deacon offense?

Expectations are low, and are probably still too high.

At this point, should the defense just rotate as much as possible just to allow younger guys to get some reps?

Against one of the best quarterbacks and wide receiver duos UNC will face, bend-but-not-break must be the M.O. for the team Saturday afternoon.

It is a shame that is has regressed to this point.

Shootout

In flashbacks to writing about the Fedora-era Tar Heels, can UNC win this game by outscoring Wake Forest?

Just comparing to last week, the Demon Deacons are better on defense and offense than the Fighting Irish, so it does not look good so far.

The good news is the Tar Heels will be in Kenan Memorial Stadium, and the home turf has been kinder to UNC.

Throw in a homecoming crowd and Howell putting the team on his back, the odds are good that Carolina will generate some offense.

But will it be enough?

Offensive Targets for Next Season

The combination of another transfer and slightly more receptions from targets other than Josh Downs last week inspired this post.

And, of course, the need to look towards the future with this season hurling towards an end sooner than expected.

Freshman tight end Bryson Nesbit had the best game of his collegiate career with three receptions for 50 yards, including one for 19 yards.

Sophomore receiver Justin Olson had two catches for 25 yards, matching Nesbit’s long of 19 yards.

Will these two join Downs as the primary targets for the next UNC quarterback in 2022?

Howell and Chandler are carrying the load on the running game. Caleb Hood is presumably not appearing anymore this season due to his upper body injury and redshirt eligibility.

So what about the future on the ground?

Although the action was limited to seven carries, sophomore running back D.J. Jones was just a tick above Howell and Ty Chandler in yards per carry.

Can we expect Jones to get more touches as the season progresses? If the Tar Heels are not within striking distance with these upcoming opponents, Jones should definitely get the ball more frequently.

Will that occur tomorrow?


Loyal Tar Heel Blog readers, what are you looking for Saturday afternoon?