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by Sharon Thorsland

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 05 North Carolina at Virginia

It’s been an interesting start to the season for North Carolina. They won their opener in fairly easy fashion, but then went down to the wire in a shoot-out with App State last week, barely escaping Boone with a wild 63-61 win. Obviously the offense was outstanding, but the defense – not so much.. I’m still trying to figure out how the Heels gave up six touchdowns in the 4th quarter to App – how?!! So getting the defense back on track this week will be key. But it won’t be easy against a dangerous Georgia State team on the road. Kick off is set for noon in Atlanta.

The Tar Heels routed Georgia State last season 59-17, but this year’s Panthers squad is expected to be much better. They’re coming off three straight bowl appearances and return 17 of its 22 starters. The Panthers looked pretty impressive in their season opening 35-14 loss to South Carolina last week. They were up 14-12 in the third quarter before the Gamecocks blocked two punts and returned both for touchdowns. They picked off Spencer Rattler twice and sacked him three times, and they kept USC’s ground game in check, allowing just 79 rushing yards. Star cornerback Quavian White had both of those interceptions, while hard-hitting safety Antavious Lane led the team in tackles. Linebackers Jamil Muhammed and Blake Carroll are aggressive off the edge, they combined for 11.5 sacks last season.

The Panthers are a run-first offense, they ranked 8th in the country in rushing last season, averaging over 226 yards per game. They’ve apparently picked up where they left off, racking up 200 yards against the Gamecocks last week on 40 rushing attempts with just 29 plays through the air. Their top two rushers from last season are back in seniors Tucker Gregg and Jamyest Williams. Quarterback Darren Grainger is a dual threat who picked up 660 rushing yard last season with over 1700 passing yards and 19 touchdowns last season. He was not good against the Gamecock last week, though, going just 7 of 29 for 111 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Keeping Grainger bottled up on the ground will be key for a UNC defense that gave up 288 rushing yards to App last week.

This is a very important game for North Carolina. After a pair of less than impressive defensive efforts, it’s time to get things back on track. The offense has been stellar but can only do so much. The Tar Heels have a bye next week but a much anticipated matchup with Notre Dame looms, and it’s going to take a strong defensive effort to beat the Fighting Irish. But first the Heels have to take care of business at Georgia State. Look for the offense to keep rolling and the defense to tighten up – I say UNC wins a close one in Atlanta. Go Heels!!