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North Carolina v Pittsburgh

by Sharon Thorsland

It’s been a big week for North Carolina. The 14th ranked Tar Heels got their star receiver back, as Tez Walker was given immediate eligibility by the NCAA after they reversed their decision on his transfer waiver. That’s huge news for a UNC team that could use another play maker in their passing game. Walker and the Tar Heels are coming off a bye week and boast a 4-0 record for the first time since 1997 as they head into Saturday’s match-up with Syracuse at Kenan Stadium. The Orange also started the season 4-0 before falling to Clemson last week thanks to a bunch of turnovers and penalties. So this is a pretty darn good Syracuse team that will provide a great test for the Heels. Kick-off is set for 3:30 on WBT.

Syracuse boasts a potent offense that is averaging over 38 points and 462 yards per game. Star quarterback Garrett Shrader accounts for nearly 300 of those yards. The 6’4 senior from Charlotte is a dual threat who can make plays with his arm and his feet. He’s thrown for 1,148 yards and eight touchdowns, and is second on the team in rushing with 340 yards and six more scores. The Tar Heels will certainly have their hands full with Shrader, who is one of the more experienced quarterbacks in the ACC. “He will run right over you,” said UNC coach Mack Brown. “He’s one of the toughest quarterbacks I’ve ever seen.”

Shrader plays behind an offensive line that has been solid most of the season but gave up five sacks to the Tigers last week. He spreads the ball around to a talented receiving corps that is missing deep threat Isaiah Jones, who is out with an injury. But Umari Hatcher is another home run threat, he’s averaging over 17 yards a grab and has two touchdowns. Damien Alford and Donovan Brown have combined for 555 yards and two scores. Running back LeQuint Allen is also a in the mix, he has 17 catches and a score. On the ground Allen leads a rushing attack that averages 190 yards per game. He’s picked up 363 yards and six touchdowns. The Tar Heels are definitely better against the run this season than in the past but still allow over 124 rushing yards per game.

The Orange defense is even better than its offense, ranking 19th in the country allowing just 297 total yards per game and less than 15 points a contest. They’ve got a dynamic pair of linebackers in Marlowe Wax, who leads the team in tackles, and Leon Lowery, who has 2.5 of the team’s 16 sacks. They’ll face a fast-paced UNC offense led by quarterback Drake Maye, who is averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game and now adds Walker. Maye will likely have to carry the load in the one, as Omarion Hampton and the UNC rushing attack will face a Syracuse defense that is excellent against the run. The Orange is allowing just 96 yards per game and 2.7 yards per carry – that’s 12th in the country.

The last time these teams met was in 2020 in front of an empty Kenan Stadium due to Covid, UNC won it 31-6. While this week’s contest is sold out, the result should be in the same – another Carolina victory. Go Tar Heels!