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UNC vs. Wake Forest: Three Things to Watch

The Tar Heels can clinch a trip to Charlotte Saturday evening.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at Virginia Scott Taetsch-USA TODAY Sports

The North Carolina Tar Heels have one last challenge on the road, and a mighty challenge it will be.

As the lone team in the nation with a 5-0 record on the road, Carolina seeks to finish off their away schedule with a win this weekend in Winston-Salem.

While UNC has rallied to overcome second-half deficits in the last three games, Wake Forest has stumbled in their last two games and has fallen from the rankings.

Even still, Las Vegas has the Demon Deacons as a 3.5-point favorite.

Underdogs and still fighting for respect, here are a few things to watch Saturday night at Truist Field.

Creating Turnovers

In each of the past two games, Wake Forest has racked up over 400 yards of offense.

The Deac have also committed 11 turnovers.

Yes, 11 in two games. This includes eight turnovers against Louisville.

These turnovers are the ultimate neutralizer of the second-best offense in the ACC.

During Carolina’s five-game winning streak, the Tar Heels are +2 on their turnover margin. UNC’s victory over Duke was the lone game in which they were underwater on the turnover margin.

Wake Forest is looking for any solution to this awful streak of turnovers, and Carolina needs impact plays to force WF to keep coughing up the ball.

With UNC’s recent streak of first half defensive performances, a forced turnover or two before halftime would boost Carolina’s odds on the road.

Solidifying the Running Game

After weeks of running back by committee, or very little action on the ground outside of Drake Maye, the Tar Heels may have their RB1.

Elijah Green is getting high praise from coaches, teammates, reporters, and fans alike.

Here’s offensive coordinator Phil Longo from his press conference after the Virginia game:

I think he’s very decisive in terms of making a decision and finding that little crease. Just the smallest of creases is inviting to him. And he’s going to kick it into fifth gear and get headed downhill. He’s got a low pad level and he’s got high knees. He’s just physical. I think he’s hard to take on if you’re the first engager. He doesn’t have a lot of moves, but he plays downhill. And he does it with speed.

Against the Cavaliers, Green had 22 carries for 91 yards and a touchdown. Those 22 rushing attempts are the most by a running back in a single game this season.

The need for reliable running was evident in the fourth quarter in Charlottesville. Carolina needed to maintain possession while still moving the ball down the field.

This was a point emphasized by head coach Mack Brown during the on-field interview immediately after the victory over Virginia.

Look for Green to be a key contributor this weekend.

Slowing Down Sam Hartman

Junior quarterback Sam Hartman is having another solid season, even though it is below expectations based on his great year in 2021.

During Wake’s two-game losing streak, Hartman has been sacked 11 times and has thrown six interceptions. He has also logged negative rushing yards in both games.

He managed just 271 yards against Louisville. The seven sacks by the Cardinals were a major factor in Hartman’s season-low 57.1 completion percentage.

Despite throwing for almost 400 yards against NC State, the three interceptions, nonexistent running game, and scoreless third quarter did Hartman and the Deacs in last week.

Even so, WF suffered just a nine-point loss.

The Tar Heels may not be able to stop Hartman, but they have to find a way to slow him down. The second-half adjustments by the UNC defense have been critical to this five-game winning streak. Look for more of the same on Saturday.