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Early ACC Showdown in Chapel Hill

Sharon Thorsland
September 08, 2017 - 7:42 am

It's week two of the college football season and it's already a huge ACC match-up for North Carolina. The Tar Heels open conference play on Saturday, taking on #16 Louisville and their Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Lamar Jackson. The Cardinals bring a 1-0 record and their garish, shiny red helmets with them. You can hear the game on WBT, kick-off is set for 12:00 with the pregame show starting at 11am.

The Cardinals were one of the best teams in the country last season, starting 9-1 before falling apart late and losing their final three games. They opened this season with a less than impressive 35-28 win at Purdue last week. Of course, my Tar Heels didn't look too good either, and they lost 35-30 at home to a rebuilding California team.

While the Tar Heels can't seem to decide on a starting quarterback (even though Brandon Harris threw two picks and Chazz Surratt threw for 161 yards and a touchdown), the Cardinals boast one of the best in the country in Jackson. He's a dual-threat, racking up an ACC record 51 combined touchdowns last season while passing for over 3300 yards and rushing for 1500 more. Last week Jackson picked up where he left off, accounting for over 400 yards of total offense and throwing for a pair of touchdowns against Purdue. Jackson will be a huge challenge for the UNC defense, which didn't look particularly impressive against the Bears last week, giving up over 360 passing yards and four touchdowns.

The Cardinals lost their top three receivers from last season but the cupboard is not bare. Junior Jaylen Smith moves into the number one role, he had eight catches for 117 yards last week against Purdue. Sophomore Seth Dawkins and freshman Dez Fitzpatrick are deep threats, they each had four grabs last week, and Fitzpatrick had a touchdown catch. The Cardinals don't have much of a ground game except for Jackson, who carries the ball more than running backs Reggie Bonnafon and Jeremy Smith combined. Bonnafon did have a touchdown run last week, though, and he and Smith are both big, physical backs. 

Louisville's defense was outstanding last season, ranking 9th in the country in rushing defense. And in spite of getting new defensive coordinator and switching to a 4-3 scheme, the Cardinals look like they haven't missed a beat. They held Purdue to 51 rushing yards and had four sacks. The front seven is the strength of the unit, led by senior linebacker Stacy Thomas, who returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown last week. Trevon Young and James Hearns start on the outside, Hearns led the team with 8 sacks last season.

The secondary is a veteran bunch, anchored by a pair of senior safeties in Zykiesis Cannon and Chucky Williams and senior cornerback Trumaine Washington. They team with preseason All-America cornerback Jaire Alexander, although he's questionable for the game with a leg injury.

If Louisville does have a flaw, it's holding on to the football. The Cardinals lost three fumbles last week. The Tar Heels also had three turnovers, a fumble and Harris' two picks. 

This is the first time UNC has played Louisville since 2012, a game they lost 39-34. The Cardinals lead the series 4-3, and are the favorite to add to that win total this weekend. So this is obviously a huge challenge for my Tar Heels. They have the potential to pull off the upset, but a lot of things will have to go their way for that to happen. If UNC can jump out to an early lead and get Jackson off-balance, and force the Cardinals into some mistakes, they've got a chance. Let's go Tar Heels!



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