Initially, the NCAA investigation surrounding two UNC seniors, defensive tackle Marvin Austin and wide receiver Greg Little, packed coach Butch Davis’ press conferences.
Last week, North Carolina self-reported the possibility of academic misconduct between student athletes and a former University mentor.
Senior quarterback T.J. Yates and Pianalto confirmed Monday that the majority of the players in question were on the defensive side.
That situation lends itself to another question: Can a depleted defense still carry North Carolina to the heights this team was expected to reach with a No. 18 preseason ranking?
If the defense is a few starters short, that will put more pressure on the offense to carry more than its load.
“If it comes to that, where we’re not at full strength on defense, this offense has to step up,” Yates said. “We have to put some more points on the board. We’ve got to control the ball. It’s definitely been the mind-set going into practice last week and during this week is ‘we’ve got to be at the top of our game.’”
The defense will already be playing on one crutch. News broke Wednesday night that Austin is suspended indefinitely beginning with Saturday’s game.
Within a week, LSU, originally a one-and-a-half point underdog, finds itself the favorite in the game.
The most recent Vegas odds have the Tigers as six-and-a-half point favorites as of Thursday night, and with news of a potentially high number of suspensions to come, it’s easy to see why expectations have turned on the Tar Heels.
Davis said the team has prepared well enough to beat LSU by staying fixated on what it can control and ignoring things outside those boundaries.
Another factor in Saturday’s game will be the stadium. No one on North Carolina’s roster has ever played a collegiate game in a dome. The Georgia Dome will be UNC’s first dome game since 2002 when the Tar Heels beat Syracuse 30-22 in the Carrier Dome.
“Obviously the noise factor is significantly greater, but we always on Wednesday’s and Thursday’s practice, we use the piped-in sound, noise, music, overlay it with jet engines and all different kinds of things to try to simulate those kinds of focus issues with your football team,” Davis said.
The changes in the past week have only added more uncertainty to Saturday’s game, and the magnitude of the game presents a good deal of change itself.
But make no mistake, when the players take to the Georgia Dome field, questions will be answered.
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