The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Friday, June 21, 2024 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

UNC football prepares for Hyundai Sun Bowl against Stanford

The UNC football team poses for a picture after its victory over Florida State in Tallahassee on Oct. 1.

The UNC football team poses for a picture after its victory over Florida State in Tallahassee on Oct. 1.

The North Carolina football team will take the field one final time this season at 2 p.m. in the Hyundai Sun Bowl against Stanford. The No. 18 Cardinal (9-3, 6-3 Pac-12) comes into the game on a five-game winning streak — with its last loss coming in October against No. 10 Colorado — while the Tar Heels (8-4, 5-3 ACC) dropped their past two games against FBS foes.

The big news coming into the bowl game was that junior running back Christian McCaffrey would be sitting out the Sun Bowl to prepare for the NFL Draft. The Stanford star rushed for over 1,600 yards this season after setting the NCAA single-season all-purpose yardage record a season ago — so in some ways, North Carolina's abysmal rush defense dodged a bullet by not having to worry about facing him.

Yet some Tar Heel defenders felt otherwise after hearing they won’t be able to face him.

“To be honest, it was kind of disappointment,” junior cornerback M.J. Stewart said. “I kind of wanted to play against him, because he’s a really good player, potential first-round draft pick, and that’s always for me — I love to play against top-notch people.”

Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik's focus wasn’t on McCaffrey and his decision, but rather on talented backup running back Bryce Love. The sophomore rushed for 664 yards and averaged 7.5 yards per carry in limited action this season. And even with McCaffrey sidelined, Chizik’s defense will still have its hands full trying to stop Love.

“He’s really agile, quick cuts, really fast guy, really explosive,” Andre Smith said. “I think he’s just as explosive as McCaffrey, watching the Notre Dame game ... He made just as many plays, so he’s just as dangerous.”

Defensively, Stanford only gives up 20.2 points per game, ranking 17th in the country. Offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic said the Cardinal presents multiple defensive alignments, which can confuse offenses if they aren’t ready for it.

“It’s really a thing where you are kind of preparing for two different defenses, as far as the fronts ...” he said. “They try to smother the run game, have seven or eight around the box and try to keep everything in front of them and make you earn it.”

It will be a challenging game for the Tar Heels against a good opponent in Stanford. And although it may not seem like it, it’s an important game, too.

A bowl win would give North Carolina nine wins for the season and 20 in the past two seasons. And as Chizik noted, reaching that 20-win mark is something the North Carolina football program could really hang its hat on.

It’s also the last chance to take the field for many North Carolina seniors, including standouts Ryan Switzer, Des Lawrence and T.J. Logan. Defensive tackle Nazair Jones has also announced that this game will be his last for the Tar Heels, as he will declare for the 2017 NFL Draft.

Star running back Elijah Hood won't play because of injury, but unlike Jones, he will return for the 2017 season. North Carolina is still waiting for decisions from other key contributors, most notably Stewart and redshirt junior quarterback Mitch Trubisky.

UNC began the 2016 season with many grand goals, like winning the unofficial North Carolina state championship and the ACC Coastal championship — both of which the Tar Heels claimed a season ago.

Late losses to N.C. State and Duke derailed the pursuit of those two goals among others. But the Sun Bowl presents an opportunity for this North Carolina team to take the field one last time and accomplish the final goal for the 2016 season: ending with a win.

To get the day's news and headlines in your inbox each morning, sign up for our email newsletters.