North Carolina will try yet again to become bowl eligible this weekend. The Tar Heels welcome Wofford to Kenan Stadium for a noon matchup before the regular-season finale next Friday at NC State. The Heels are just 5-5 on the season after a heartbreaking overtime loss to Pitt. Wofford is also coming off an overtime loss, falling 46-45 to the Citadel to move to 1-9 on the year.
The Terriers have been defined by their rushing offense. They’ve been ranked in the top 10 among Football Championship Subdivision schools for 22 straight seasons, and are currently averaging over 208 yards on the ground per game. Junior running back Irvin Mulligan accounts for most of those yards, he leads the team with 859 yards and eight touchdowns.
Quarterback has been a revolving door for the Terriers, they’ve used four different starting quarterbacks this season. Peyton Derrick has made six starts and had a career high four touchdown passes last week. He’s only completing 52% of his passes though, and has thrown five interceptions with just touchdowns. Derrick is also a threat to run the ball, though – and that’s the type of quarterback that has given the Tar Heels issues this season. Derrick’s top receiver is Alec Holt, he’s a big play threat who’s averaging over 21 yards a catch and has 427 yards and five touchdowns on the season.
While the Terriers have been successful running the ball, they are not good at stopping the run. They’re giving up 23 rushing touchdowns and 222 rushing yards per game, that’s 117th among FCS schools. They’ll have their hands full with UNC’s Ty Chandler, who needs just 74 yards to reach 1,000 rushing yards for the season. The Terrier’s front seven is aggressive, though, they’ve forced 10 fumbles. Defensive linemen Michael Mason and Chuck Smith account for three of those, they’ve also combined for four and a half sacks. Linebacker Joe Beckett leads the team in tackles.
Wofford’s passing defense is mediocre, the Terriers give up 226 yards per game through the air and have managed just two interceptions on the season. So look for a heavy dose of Josh Downs – the Tar Heel sophomore receiver is just 114 receiving yards away from breaking UNC’s season record. Who will be getting Downs the ball is up in the air (get it?!!). Junior quarterback Sam Howell was injured in the loss at Pitt and he’s likely to be a game time decision. That means backups Jacolby Criswell or freshman Drake Maye (yes, he’s former UNC basketball star Luke’s younger brother) could be making their first career start. Criswell has attempted just two passes this season, both in a win over Georgia State, for 54 yards and a touchdown. Maye has yet to attempt a pass in a game this season.
This is a key game for UNC. First of all, the Tar Heels want to get back in the win column. Plus they’re looking to lock in a trip to their third straight bowl game, and it’s Senior Day. Twenty one players will be celebrated, including Sam Howell, who will likely be entering the NFL draft after the season. Based on the records, it certainly seems like this should be an easy win for UNC. Unless something goes very wrong, Howell and company should be celebrating Senior Day with a “W.” Go Tar Heels!
by Sharon Thorsland