More importantly, UNC must win the last two games of the season to reach a bowl game. A strong win over Mercer before going into a tougher matchup with a struggling N.C. State team would be momentous for this North Carolina team.
A big win on Saturday would be huge for UNC's seniors as well.
In their last game representing the Tar Heels in front of a home crowd at Kenan Stadium, an easy win will be the goal for those leaving, who have had a rollercoaster experience over the last few years. The Tar Heels are looking to play to their own standard, rather than the level of their competition; that can start with Saturday's matchup.
Expectations for a beat-up defense
It’s not breaking news to say that UNC’s secondary has struggled with injuries this season. Understandable struggles on the defensive side of the ball have been present, but the defense will nonetheless look to be better overall.
Against Pittsburgh last Thursday, the defense allowed 34 points and a total of 498 yards of offense in a narrow overtime loss.
Mercer’s offense isn't great – quarterback Kaelan Riley has struggled recently, throwing for 224 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions in his last outing against Eastern Tennessee State.Still, a solid defensive performance by the Tar Heels will be necessary to earn a win on Saturday.
And it's UNC's seniors who make up a key portion of that defense.
Senior safety Myles Dorn has 71 tackles, an interception and four pass breakups on the season. Graduate defensive tackle Aaron Crawford has 45 tackles, three sacks and a forced fumble in 2019. And senior defensive lineman Jason Strowbridge has tallied 40 tackles, three sacks, one forced fumble and three fumble recoveries.
The veteran defensive players should look to take advantage of the Bears' offensive inconsistency and force some turnovers, putting the offense in a good position to win.
Battle of the running backs
Junior Michael Carter, senior Antonio Williams and sophomore Javonte Williams are all key pieces in the Tar Heel running game.
The younger Williams has had a solid year with 763 rushing yards and three touchdowns, while Carter has totaled 663 yards.
Antonio Williams is coming off of a huge game against Pitt where he ran for 107 yards in just 12 attempts. In his last game in Kenan Stadium, the senior will be a key to the offense and certainly look to add to his 32 rushes for 244 yards on the season.
But the Tar Heels will have some competition.
Junior running back Tyray Devezin had a big game last week for the Bears, racking up 168 rushing yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries.
Despite the talents of first-year quarterback Sam Howell, this game could very well be won or lost for North Carolina in a battle of the running backs.
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