The North Carolina football team will take on the Pittsburgh Panthers on Thursday at Heinz Field. Pittsburgh won’t be the Tar Heels' toughest opponent, but the team will certainly put up a fight, especially after losing to the Tar Heels by one point last year.
The Tar Heels (1-8, 0-6 ACC) lost many key players in 2016 and injuries have plagued the inexperienced roster. UNC now has 18 players listed as out for the season and two, Ayden Bonilla and Dominique Ross, out against Pittsburgh (4-5), according to an injury report released this week.
UNC’s growing injuries have affected the offensive line limiting the Tar Heels options of who to put on the field. Based on how both teams have played in the past, the playing field will be fairly equal.
Here are three things to keep in mind heading into the Thursday night game.
Off the NCAA record
All-American kick returner Quadree Henderson is someone to look out for. Henderson was recently named ACC Specialist of the Week, and he is two kick return touchdowns away from tying the NCAA record of nine.
After returning a punt 75 yards to the house against Virginia last week, ACC teams know by now that kicking to Henderson is a mistake. The Panthers built a 21-0 lead then relied on their defense to do the rest against Virginia.
Pittsburgh head coach Pat Narduzzi is always finding opportunities to talk about his team’s youth. Narduzzi often stresses the progress the program has made and that a payout awaits if they keep at it.
Pittsburgh saw its record drop to 2-5 after losing to N.C. State on Oct. 14. But the Panthers have won their last two, bringing the opportunity to go to a bowl back into play.
Similarly, the Tar Heels are also made up of younger, less experienced players and UNC made Miami work for its 24-19 victory. The Tar Heels ran some big plays and had more total yards (428) and first downs than the Hurricanes.
The Panthers and Tar Heels will be butting heads as young players from both teams face off Thursday.
Defense, defense, defense
Although Pittsburgh has a young defense, the team showed it is rapidly improving in a 31-14 win over Virginia. The Panthers will have an opportunity to shut down a Tar Heel offense that has struggled because of injuries and inexperience in 2017.
On the other side of the ball, the Panthers relied heavily on its running backs Qadree Ollison and Darrin Hall, which signs caution to the Tar Heels defense. North Carolina has struggled to stop big plays all season long. Pittsburgh will be looking to continue that trend and break some big runs on Thursday night.
The Tar Heels will need to be on their A-game defensively if the team plans to bring home a victory this week.
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