UNC, Wake Forest face off with eyes on title game
North Carolina has demonstrated the proper reactions following losses. Now the Tar Heels have to show that they can build off victories.
After again dominating an in-state opponent, there’s another such assignment awaiting North Carolina when Wake Forest visits for Saturday afternoon’s Atlantic Coast Conference at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill, N.C.
“We need to learn from a win as well as we have (from) a loss,” said North Carolina coach Mack Brown, whose team has alternated losses and wins over the past four games.
Wake Forest (4-2, 3-2 ACC) has been more consistent, building a four-game winning streak in October prior to last weekend’s open date on the schedule.
“We’re excited about how we’re playing,” Wake Forest coach Dave Clawson said. “I think it’s a good time to recharge a little bit. … We’re showing a lot of resilience and grit, especially after those first two games. There were a lot of questions about the defense. I certainly liked how we did a lot of things in the month of October.”
North Carolina (5-2, 5-2) throttled Duke 56-24 last week to respond from a loss at Virginia. Before that, the Tar Heels followed a setback at Florida State by blowing out North Carolina State.
“Are we emotionally at a point where we can play at whole game and not have the ups and downs?” Brown said. “Hopefully, after a win they can prepare themselves to play well.”
The winner of Saturday’s game will stay in contention for a spot in the ACC championship game. Both teams have remaining matchups against first-place Notre Dame and Miami, which has lost just once. Both of those teams are ranked in the top 10.
“A lot of our goals are still intact,” Clawson said. “We need a little bit of help. We just got to take care of business.”
North Carolina has used a bevy of players in some recent games. Developing that depth might pay off.
“The best teams learn to play every week with intensity,” Brown said. “Now, two of these three games we’ve got to substitute a lot of people, so we should be more fresh after those games. … We’re getting to the point that the guys we put in when the other guys are hurt (are productive). Hopefully we’ll just continue to grow in that area.”
No members of the Tar Heels’ starting secondary from the season opener played in the Duke game. Storm Duck will remain out for the Wake Forest game, with the statuses of other players less certain.
Wake Forest’s secondary also has been ravaged by injuries, with Luke Masterson, Nasir Greer, Coby Davis and Zion Keith missing time.
“We certainly think we could get some of them back,” Clawson said.
Wake Forest has shifted gears on offense, sometimes going away from the hurry-up approach. Slowing tempo might be the plan this week in an effort to keep possession away from North Carolina’s quick-strike offense.
“We don’t have to play one particular way to win,” Clawson said. “Instead of it being a season formula, it almost becomes a feel for the game. … We don’t care how we win. We’re willing to adjust and play differently.”
For Wake Forest quarterback Sam Hartman, this will mark his first on-field action against North Carolina because he didn’t play when they faced off in 2019.
North Carolina running back Javonte Williams leads the country with 17 touchdowns (14 rushing, three receiving). He averages 109.6 rushing yards per game and teammate Michael Carter checks in with 104.7 yards per game on the ground.
North Carolina and Wake Forest met last year in a nonconference game, with the Demon Deacons holding on for a 24-18 home victory.
That game featured a family matchup with Wake Forest receiver Sage Surratt and his brother, North Carolina linebacker Chazz Surratt. That aspect has gone away because Sage Surratt, who suffered an injury last November that put him out of action for the rest of the 2019 season, opted out of this season to prepare for the NFL Draft. Both siblings are considered prospects for the 2021 draft, and Chazz Surratt leads the Tar Heels with 54 tackles.
–Field Level Media