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UNC Football: Players to watch vs. Cal

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Who will we be talking about Sunday morning?

NCAA Football: North Carolina vs Georgia Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

The obvious player to watch this weekend is the quarterback. The problem is we still don’t know who will be under center Saturday afternoon. Will it be Brandon Harris, Chazz Surratt, or Nathan Elliot? All three have been hinted as a starter from various sources, but no one knows for certain, and there has been plenty of speculation and analysis of the battle.

We do know, however, who will be playing. I’ll give you the one player on offense and defense that you should keep your eye on when the Bears take on the Tar Heels this Saturday. Both of these players will be splitting reps at their respective positions and will try to snag the starting roles for themselves. Both also happen to be freshmen (technically).

Without further ado, let’s look at who will have our attention this weekend.

Offense: TB - Michael Carter

With Elijah Hood and T.J. Logan gone to the NFL, the Tar Heel backfield is wide open. sophomore Jordon Brown is the only tailback with meaningful UNC carries and is expected to get a workman’s share this Saturday. Stanton Truitt transferred in from Auburn, but has been dealing with a nagging injury during camp and isn’t listed on the depth chart. Freshman Michael Carter, a dynamic tailback from Florida, has worked himself into a tie for the starting role with Brown. They will most likely split the reps against Cal on Saturday.

Cal’s defense was left largely intact from last season, and that might be a blessing in disguise for the Tar Heel tailbacks. The Bears gave up over 200 yards rushing per game with nearly five yards per rush.

Carter is an explosive back who runs with a low center of gravity and is hard to bring down. He is also an extremely patient runner who waits for his blockers to open up holes for him to accelerate through. If the Tar Heels’ front line can get even a modicum of push, Carter could find himself reaching the second level often and racking up four to five yards per carry.

You can also expect him to make a smaller statement in the passing game as a check-down receiver as the quarterback-wideout relationship is established. Look for Carter to make noise out of the backfield running for close to 100 yards in his first game as a Tar Heel.

Defense: DE - Tomon Fox

In just two games last season (against Georgia and Illinois), Fox produced four tackles, a sack, a forced fumble, and a fumble recovery. That’s not a bad statline to start a season. Unfortunately, he injured his knee in a week three practice and it sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Back after taking a medical redshirt, he looks to add athleticism to an experienced front seven.

Fox has had a strong camp and is listed ahead of Junior Malik Carney on the depth chart (even though it says -OR-) for the opening game. It is expected that Fox and Carney will split the snaps and offer depth at the defensive end position (with Tyler Powell and Dajaun Drennon rotating the other defensive end).

Fox will make a big impact against a California offensive line that is replacing three of it’s five starters. Even with a seasoned offensive line last year, they allowed 27 total sacks. That’s just a tick over two per game. North Carolina, as a unit last season produced 23 total sacks. Again, nearly two per game.

With the speed and athleticism that Fox brings, look for him to wreak havoc and only add to those numbers. He expects the defense as a whole to produce big numbers saying “there is an emphasis on being more physical and playing fast.” I expect that Fox will be in the backfield all game. Look for him to affect the offense with hurries, pass breakups, tackles for loss, and at least one sack.

Who do you think we should be keeping our eyes on during this first action of the new season?