After a 10-point loss to No. 11 Notre Dame, the North Carolina football team is looking ahead to playing against No. 10 Wake Forest on Saturday, with a chance to bring its record above .500.
The Tar Heels were the winners of a 59-53 shootout against the Demon Deacons last season, and a win this week would help them move up the ladder in the ACC standings, where they are currently third place in the Coastal Division.
At home, UNC will look to build on its success in Kenan Stadium, where the team is 4-1 this season. The home-field advantage has made the Tar Heels 2.5-point favorites against the Demon Deacons, despite Wake Forest entering the game unbeaten.
The UNC offense, led by junior quarterback Sam Howell and sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs, moved the ball exceptionally well last week against Notre Dame, scoring 34 points. The Tar Heels also received contributions from senior wide receiver Antoine Green and first-year tight end Bryson Nesbit, who combined for eight catches, 133 yards and a touchdown.
In order for head coach Mack Brown and his team to beat a top-10 opponent, not only does the offense need to be exceptional, but the Tar Heels’ defense needs to show improvement. Notre Dame had a season high in total yards last week.
Wake Forest features a potent passing attack, led by quarterback Sam Hartman. Hartman was a key player in last season's matchup after he passed for 429 yards and threw for four touchdowns. The quarterback is coming in hot, fresh off the team’s win against Duke, where he was responsible for five touchdowns on the way to a 45-7 victory.
The Tar Heels will look to sophomore defensive backs Ja’Qurious Conley, Storm Duck and Tony Grimes to slow down the Demon Deacons through the air. Without an exceptional game from the defense, the Tar Heels will likely fall below .500.
For the last few years, the Tar Heels have become known as a team that excels toward the end of each game. But over their past several losses, they have folded in the second half. Against a team as dominant as Wake Forest, that cannot be the case.
The team must come out with the same intensity it showed against Georgia State, Virginia and Duke, where it jumped out to an early lead in each game.
With only four games remaining — and three of those coming against teams vying for a spot in the ACC Championship game — the Tar Heels will have to fight an uphill battle to earn bowl eligibility, which requires six wins. The team has yet to put together a complete performance this year, but doing so soon will be vital as the season comes to a close.
Regardless of how previous games have gone thus far, these upcoming challenges will give UNC a chance to salvage its season. If the Tar Heels want to continue their season through January, defeating a tough Wake Forest opponent will be a crucial first step.
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