For the second season in a row, UNC will have wasted a stellar start to end the year on a sour note. I can’t help but recall Top Gun during Goose’s death scene when I reflect on the current state of affairs at Kenan Stadium.
Things were looking great at the beginning of the season. The Tar Heels started off hot (ignoring the second shoot-out in a row with App State) en route to a 6-0 record with eminently winnable games ahead of them before embarking on a perilous final three games.
Then Carolina flew into Iceman’s jet wash and began to spin out. Engine one going out was the loss at home to Virginia. Engine two was the loss the following week to then 3-4 Georgia Tech. Omarion Hampton getting the ball punched out at the 1-yard line versus Clemson was when Goose’s head hit the canopy.
A win at NC State would be like the pararescueman telling Maverick to let go of Goose’s body. Maverick was saved, but he didn’t feel so great afterwards.
Omarion Hampton, the ACC’s leading rusher, had not fumbled once this season before the Clemson game. At the worst possible time, he coughed up the ball twice inside Clemson’s 10-yard line.
Sometimes... it just be like that. But it won’t get any easier against the Wolfpack. NC State’s run defense is even stingier than Clemson’s, giving up just 3.54 ypr against the Tigers’ 3.84 ypr. State has also given up four fewer rushing touchdowns all season. For Hampton to make amends, he’s going to have to really bear down and take the fight to the men in red hats.
Hampton did run for 178 yards and two touchdowns against Clemson, by far the best rushing performance against the Tigers all season. If there is a running back that can puncture NC State’s defense, it’s a motivated, pissed-off Omarion Hampton. Holding onto the ball will be critical.
This season, Hampton is averaging a jaw-dropping 8.5 ypr. Now, he does have giant chunks (like his 64 and 55-yard rushes against Clemson) distorting that average, but those who watch Hampton often know this is a feature, not a bug. Hampton will run into a few brick walls at Carter-Finley, but Chip Lindsey must continue to let him smash through them.
A rejuvenated Brennan Armstrong is a worry. Kevin Concepcion is a concern.
With Alijah Huzzie presumably out, or at best not at 100%, trying to wrangle NC State’s star freshman Swiss Army knife will be a cluster headache for Gene Chizik to deal with.
Concepcion is dangerous in a Percy Harvin kind of way. Though predominantly a wide receiver, Robert Anae has lined Concepcion all over the field in order to 1.) get the ball in his hands, and 2.) get him in space where he can make explosive plays.
That sounds like a recipe for disaster against a defense that has trouble tackling in the open field or containing the run. If Carolina cannot control the line of scrimmage AND the edges, there’s a better than good chance that we’ll see a few KC plays go for huge chunks, possibly with a touchdown at the end of it.
Prediction: UNC 24, NC State 28