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UNC vs. Minnesota: Three Things to Watch

The Heels are cleaning up things this week in hopes of improving their record to 3-0.

NCAA Football: Appalachian State at North Carolina Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Tar Heels are getting set to take on Minnesota Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium. It will be the first time that these teams have ever faced off, so it should be a really interesting game for both schools. On paper, the Heels will go into the game with the better offense, but the Gophers statistically have the better defense. Which side will prevail? We’ll find out soon enough.

Without further delay, let’s go ahead and dive into the three keys to Saturday afternoon’s game.

Can UNC’s running backs get the job done?

A few days ago the Heels said that they feel good about running back British Brooks returning to the lineup. That means that Mack Brown will likely not only have his original starting running back Saturday, but he will have Omarion Hampton, who ripped apart Appalachian State’s defense for 234 yards and three touchdowns. It’s great news for Mack Brown and his staff, and now the question is whether or not they will be able to get the job done against Minnesota’s front seven.

The Gophers have played Nebraska and Eastern Michigan so far this season, with the Cornhuskers having the most success running the ball against Minnesota. They ran for 181 yards and averaged 4.9 yards per rush, with Jeff Sims leading the team with 91 yards. It is really hard to get a sense of where Minnesota’s front seven is truly at when they aren’t able to stop Power Five running backs, but they were able to hold a MAC team to 81 yards. I have a feeling Hampton and Brooks are going to be one of the toughest tandems that Minnesota faces this season, so this will be quite a test for them before they have to face the likes on Michigan and Ohio State later on this season.

Returning to Sack Town

After recording nine sacks against South Carolina, the Heels left the field last Saturday without taking down Joey Aguilar once. Kaimon Rucker was kept in check for the night, and the front seven in general looked more like what we saw all last season than the powerhouse we saw to open the season. Part of the problem was that the secondary left receivers wide open on multiple occasions, making it easy for Aguilar to get the ball out quickly.

Mack Brown discussed the issue in his press conference this week, saying that he has had talks with Gene Chizik about disguising their looks better and have guys move around more to mix up the looks the quarterback is getting.

“You show one look and bring another,” Brown said. “You show bump on the wide receivers and then you back off and play two-deep zone. So he’s got to hold it a little bit longer, because he’s not really sure. I think we’ve given them too clear a picture, and we’ve got young corners, and they’ll get better at this. But we’ve given them too clear of a picture of what we’re in, and it’s too easy to go there. So let’s change it up.”

UNC’s secondary is far from this team’s strength, but if Chizik is able to confuse Minnesota’s offense with their formations, it will not only help those guys out, but it will give the front seven more time to tee off on Athan Kaliakmanis. So far the Gophers have allowed four sacks this season, but once again, competition matters — Eastern Michigan only got to Kaliakmanis once. We’ll see what the defense has up their sleeve to add to that sack total.

Chip Lindsey needs to play to the offense’s strengths

The discourse following UNC’s win over App State was interesting to follow this week. There’s a lot of mixed feelings about the plays that offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey called throughout the game, though the one thing that everyone seemed to agree on is that the Wildcat was bad and that Lindsey should feel bad. Aside from that, there were two camps: there were the people that believed that aside from the Wildcat he called the game that he should’ve called, and there were others that felt like he was holding back Drake Maye. For those playing along at home, I felt like the latter was accurate.

As for the people that felt like he called the game correctly, they felt like the wide receivers weren’t able to get separation from App State’s secondary, which is a fair argument. My problem with that, however, is that there were a lot of bubble screens and super quick throws drawn up where Maye didn’t even look at a different receiver. In all fairness, Lindsey has a really weird situation on his hands — Tez Walker is ineligible for the rest of the season, and Nate McCollum had just returned to the team against the Mountaineers, but didn’t seem 100% like himself just yet. Still, Kobe Paysour is averaging 9.3 yards per catch, J.J. Jones is having an even better season averaging 16.4. These guys are capable, and Lindsey has to give these guys chances to make big plays.

The greatest luxury of this year’s team compared to last year’s is that the running game is opening up a lot of things on offense. The Heels really do have a good thing going for them, and now they just have to punish defenses when they collapse in by letting Drake Maye throw deep. Minnesota will provide a big challenge for the Heels’ receivers, but Maye will be the best quarterback the Gophers have faced so far. Let. Him. Cook.