As of late, the Tar Heels have been in position to grab that win but have been denied week after week. North Carolina has lost by 10 points or less five straight times, including a comeback that fell short against Georgia Tech and a third straight loss to Duke.
While both the offense and defense played well at times last week at Duke, neither unit was consistently strong.
“When we’re rolling and then maybe they let down, or all of a sudden they’re playing well and we can’t finish,” said offensive coordinator Chris Kapilovic about the two units. “If you look back, that’s been a lot of the issues this year, is both sides of the ball playing well at the same time.”
North Carolina will look to resolve that issue Saturday. The Tar Heel defense will likely key in on Western Carolina quarterback Tyrie Adams. Adams is the engine of a rather one-dimensional Catamount offense. He leads the team in both passing and rushing yards per game.
UNC’s offense should expect a big day against a team that gives up 473.7 yards per game against FCS competition. Sophomore Michael Carter ran for 148 yards and a touchdown against Duke, and he and the other North Carolina running backs should thrive against the Catamounts.
First-year Javonte Williams also rushed for his first touchdown on a career-high four carries against the Blue Devils. He and other North Carolina backups will likely see snaps Saturday, something that has been rare for UNC.
So far this season, defensive coordinator John Papuchis has elected to stick with his first-string players in tight games.
“We haven’t had an opportunity where we’ve had a lead, where I feel comfortable rolling the dice and seeing what happens,” Papuchis said.
Last season, North Carolina beat the Catamounts, 65-10, one of its three wins of the season. If all goes according to plan, Saturday’s matchup should give Papuchis a chance to play some of those backups.
In last year’s matchup, quarterback Nathan Elliott threw for 240 yards and four touchdowns. Carter ran for 103 yards and one touchdown and as a group, UNC’s running backs went for three total touchdowns. On Saturday, the Tar Heels will have their best chance all season to put up those sort of numbers again.
Though the level of competition won't be as high as what North Carolina usually faces, UNC is treating this game like any other.
"Were just preparing for them like we prepare for anybody else," Ratliff-Williams said, "and we're just ready for a competitive day."