It’s finally time for North Carolina football after a two-week hiatus, as No. 12 UNC (1-0, 1-0 ACC) readies itself for a mid-afternoon, nationally televised date with Boston College (2-0, 1-0 ACC).
The Tar Heels haven’t faced BC since 2013 and haven’t made the trip up to Chestnut Hill since 2009 — a since vacated 31-13 win where North Carolina ruined ACC Defensive Rookie of the Year Luke Kuechly’s outside chance at making the ACC title game.
Though UNC enters Saturday as a double-digit favorite, the game might be more of a challenge than some fans expect. Here are three keys to keep an eye on as the afternoon unfolds.
Rest vs. Rust
While UNC was essentially stuck back in training camp due to Charlotte’s cancellation of the two schools' game on Sept. 19 and an inability to find another opponent for the originally scheduled bye week, Boston College had been playing and winning real, meaningful football games.
As North Carolina showed in its season opener against Syracuse, not enough game action can lead to slow starts and allow for less talented opponents to stick around longer than they should. Though the Eagles have not played a team with a roster more talented than their own, they’ve shown lots of fight so far this fall.
When down late in the third quarter, 21-7, at home against Texas State, BC could have packed it in and chalked it up to a bad game. But under rookie head coach Jeff Hafley, the Eagles rallied, scoring 17 straight points over the final 16 minutes to take the lead with just under a minute to go.
Although it was Texas State, a 1-3 Sun Belt club, it helps highlight the resilience that BC has shown. If UNC lets the Eagles hang around as long as it did Syracuse, they aren’t going to fold as easily, and could put the Tar Heels on upset watch.
30 yards and a cloud of dust
If Boston College is able to take away Sam Howell’s deep ball as well as the Orange did, his offense might not have as much trouble adapting against the Eagles.
Once Howell and offensive coordinator Phil Longo were able to get their running game going, the yards started to pile up, and the points followed suit.
The Tar Heels might be wise to stick with a similar game plan against the Eagles, as they have struggled mightily to contain explosive runs. BC gave up six rush attempts of more than 10 yards against Texas State and a 49-yard touchdown run to Duke’s Mataeo Durant in its season opener.
Battle of Bunker Phil (Jurkovec)
Against Syracuse, Jay Bateman’s defense looked as if it was going to be a threat all season long, racking up seven sacks, nine QB hits and 11 tackles for loss. However, that effort came against an offense that ranked No. 72 in the nation in average yards of offense per game last season.
Boston College’s Preseason All-ACC offensive linemen, Ben Petrula and Zion Johnson, will provide an excellent test for UNC to see how much of the hype is to be believed on defense.
At quarterback, the Eagles are starting Phil Jurkovec, a Notre Dame transfer who has looked solid so far, especially when resisting pressure, but has thrown a couple of bad interceptions deep into double coverage. If the Tar Heel defensive line can break through to Jurkovec and cause him to struggle early, the secondary should be able to do the rest, despite veteran safety Myles Wolfolk's dismissal from the team.
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