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UNC vs. Pitt: Player to Watch

UNC’s #1 priority will be stopping the run and they may need to turn to J.K. Britt to get it done

North Carolina v California Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

As has been discussed before, UNC’s defense had a woeful performance against ECU two weeks ago. There was plenty of blame to go around, but one area of major concern was in stopping the run, particularly at the next level. Carolina’s linebackers were on the backheel the entire game and gave up gashing, high-yardage runs over and over again to the Pirates, ultimately allowing 220 yards and 4 touchdowns on the ground.

If Carolina’s run defense puts on a similar performance, expect (another) long day in Chapel hill against Pittsburgh. The Panthers like to run the ball. They like it A LOT. And you better believe that they are licking their chops after seeing the Tar Heels get run over like so many blades of grass in Greenville.

Through three games, Pitt has 120 rushing attempts to go with 64 passing attempts. They average 207 rushing yards per game to just 135 passing yards. Their lead back is Qadree Ollison, who is putting up 6.4 yards per carry and is averaging just under 100 yards a game, but even their quarterback Kenny Pickett has 22 attempts on the season already. This team likes to run, run, and run some more, and Carolina needs to change tactics if they’re going to have a chance to get their season back on track.

Not particularly complicated: The run D is weak and the linebackers are overwhelmed, so the logical solution is to add safety help to the box and force the Panthers to take their attack to the air. Carolina’s safeties have already been called upon to punch above their weight in the tackling department, and one that has been up to the task is senior J.K. Britt.

Britt has long played in the shadow of the more talented Myles Dorn, but through Carolina’s first two games he is tied for the lead in tackles, notching 13 in two games, 11 unassisted. We all know what Dorn can do, and his pass coverage and open field tackling will be essential all year, but for games like this, his secondary wingman may be needed to help choke off Pitt’s run game and send it to the air. Adding Britt to the box and keeping Dorn in coverage, particularly on the short throws Pitt favors, may be the wrinkle that UNC needs to throw Pitt off. Lest we forget, Britt had a terrific game last year against the Panthers, forcing a turnover, and playing well against their ball carriers.

Another player to note is Myles Wofolk, the talented sophomore who has 10 solo tackles on the year already. Britt’s experience may give him more of a versatile role on Saturday, but Wofolk could also be key as well. (By the way, the fact that UNC’s three primary safeties have already been asked to make 26 solo tackles makes me miserable). If the UNC safety can back up the backers, UNC may have its first win of the season.