Despite capturing the Victory Bell for the second straight year, the North Carolina football team fell just shy of a top 25 ranking for a second straight week — after becoming unranked following the loss to a sub-.500 Virginia team two weeks ago.
After the win over Duke on Saturday, the Tar Heels will look to improve to 6-2 in a head-to-head with in-state rival Wake Forest in Kenan Memorial Stadium.
Though the Tar Heels were able to gain another ACC win, their chances of making the Conference title game grew even more slim with now-No. 2 Notre Dame upsetting then-No. 1 Clemson.
In a press conference on Monday, UNC head coach Mack Brown said he would be supportive of the Fighting Irish joining the ACC full-time.
"And I think everybody that loves the ACC would like to see them join," Brown said. "I mean, that would be such a plus for us because it would raise the standard in our league like they have this year and make the rest of us fight to get to them and get to where Clemson is."
In order for the Tar Heels to make the championship, they would have to win out, beating Notre Dame and No. 9 Miami in the process, with Notre Dame losing one of its other remaining matchups against an unranked opponent. Another possibility would be Clemson losing two of its three remaining games, but considering the return of standout quarterback Trevor Lawrence and the remaining teams on the Tigers' schedule, this does not seem likely.
Though the win came handedly, offensive coordinator Phil Longo and co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman said they will look to continue to highlight the team's bright spots from the game and improve before facing a difficult stretch of opponents.
Longo said he was more than pleased with the success his offense built upon on Saturday, even after the loss to Virginia. Against the Cavaliers, UNC scored 41 points, but could not overtake Virginia’s 44. One of the offense's main problems was UVA's relentless pass-rush, and Longo said the Tar Heels prevented Duke from continuing that pressure by implementing their running backs.
“We had to establish the run game,” Longo said. “We wanted to throw the ball a little bit off the run game, we wanted to get some quick triggers out to the receivers in the slots so that (quarterback Sam Howell is) not holding the football, and we were able to continue that with our running backs in some key third-down situations. And our offensive line just played some really good football.”
Bateman, who has been working with the Tar Heels for almost two years now, has helped transform UNC's defense into a semi-reliable unit. UNC has allowed less than 25 points in four of its seven games, but has allowed over 30 points in the other three.
“I felt like this was the first game in a while that when mistakes would happen, our kids knew exactly what the problem was,” Bateman said. “I felt that we were especially efficient in the run game. That will be really important against Wake (Forest) because they have a really good offense.”
North Carolina's defense is preparing to face Wake Forest redshirt sophomore quarterback Sam Hartman, who has stood out among ACC competitors this season. Hartman is yet to throw an interception this year, and is one of just two sophomores on the Johnny Unitas Golden Arm Award watch list.
“(Hartman's) really talented,” Bateman said. “I think he’s extremely accurate, he’s extremely knowledgeable about what they ask him to do and they have a really unique offense attack that he does a great job executing.”
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