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UNC vs. Campbell: Three Things to Watch

All nonsense must end. Right. Now.

Syracuse v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

This was supposed to be the part of the season where Carolina exceeded preseason expectations, ran the early part of the season undefeated, and had a late-season tune up with Campbell before diving headfirst into the most difficult portion of the schedule. Instead, Campbell now presents as a get-right game.

Campbell were always going to be underdogs, but now the Camels will be a measuring stick for a beleaguered defense that was undressed two Saturday nights in a row. Put bluntly, Carolina’s defense is fighting for its life and Gene Chizik is (hopefully) fighting for his job.

Here are three things to watch as the Tar Heels look to get over the hump.

Can the defense assert itself?

Virginia put it on the Tar Heels with tempo. By doing so, they built a blueprint that Georgia Tech copied and perfected. While the Cavaliers ran for 228 yards (4.2 ypr), the Yellow Jackets thundered for 348 yards (an astounding 7.3 ypr). The Ramblin’ Wreck ruined Carolina’s defensive line, pushing them deep into the second level, and allowing their running backs to gain huge chunks straight up the middle.

Campbell is a middling 4-4 with a pretty pedestrian schedule. UNC is their first Power 5 opponent. The Camels do have some beef on the offensive line, and have put up an excess of 40 points in a game three times. If the Tar Heels think they can just show up and dominate, they could be in for a nasty surprise.

That cannot happen. Carolina needs to play angry. They need to show they can handle tempo. They need to show they can stuff the run and get after the quarterback.

Duke, Clemson, and NC State await, and all three teams have quarterbacks who can escape the pocket to hurt you. This Saturday, the Heels need to show they can stop these problems from turning into game (and season) killers.

Assuming Tez sits, who steps up?

It could be slim pickings for Drake Maye on Saturday. We’re hoping for the best with Tez Walker, who took a vicious (legal) hit from Ahmari Harvey and is now back in Chapel Hill. His status is unknown, but even if he was 50%, you’d like to think Mack Brown would rest him against Campbell.

Nate McCollum is listed as having a lower-body injury. Kobe Paysour is still a long-term scratch with a broken foot. So who steps up?

Gavin Blackwell, a deep threat, has returned from concussion, but only played five snaps at Georgia Tech. Andre Green had three less. Doc Chapman played four snaps on offense, but was able to make some noise:

Opponents are averaging 175.8 rushing yards per game against Campbell, so Chip Lindsey may decide to do what he did against Georgia Tech and commit to the run. It’s not a bad plan. If Omarion Hampton can rush for 197 yards against Miami and 153 yards against Georgia Tech, he should be able to eclipse Campbell’s average against.

What will Kenan be like?

New lights. Night games in prime time. Top ten ranking. It was easy to rock with the Tar Heels when they were 6-0 and looking to build something special.

Now that they’ve crashed back to Earth, will Carolina fans still support the team? A noon kick-off against Campbell won’t help the situation. As of Halloween night, there were 359 listings on Seatgeek, not terrible. The weather should be lovely, that’ll help. But if the crowd transmits disappointment and low energy, will the play be equally tepid?

If Tar Heel nation isn’t up to the task of lifting up the team, the players will have to create their own energy. It’s absolutely essential that UNC not only wins, but gains back all of the momentum they lost after the Miami win. They’ll need every morsel of it for the stretch run.