The North Carolina Tar Heels have to be looking forward to this weekend's road game against the Boston College Eagles. After a season-opening win over Syracuse, the Tar Heels had their game against Charlotte canceled due to COVID-19 issues and then sat through an open date. Finally, after three weeks, Carolina will get back to game action this Saturday.
They will be facing a Boston College squad that had two completely different wins. In the victory over Duke, the Eagles looked dominant in defeating the Blue Devils 26-6. Last week, Boston College trailed Texas State for much of the game before pulling out a last-second win. Considering that Texas State has won just 14 games since the start of the 2015 season, surviving the Bobcats was far from impressive.
As a result, there will be much to learn about both the Heels and the Eagles this Saturday as the two schools meet for the eighth time.
North Carolina at Boston College
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 3 at 3:30 p.m. ET
Spread: North Carolina -13.5
When North Carolina Has the Ball
In their only game, North Carolina had scored just 10 points in the first three quarters against a Syracuse team that was 88th in scoring defense in 2019. But the Tar Heels exploded for 21 points in the fourth quarter and cruised to a 31-6 victory.
Three turnovers and nine penalties really slowed UNC down that day and both are things that have to be cleaned up. If they are, this is an offense capable of filling the stat sheet. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell can really throw. There is the deep, talented group of receivers led by Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome. Michael Carter and Javonte Williams are a two-headed monster at running back. And four of five starters return up front.
The Carolina offense can beat you in many ways and against the Eagles that balance could be a huge advantage. Texas State had a bit of success running the ball and a bit more success throwing the ball. Late in the game, when things got tight, Boston College linebacker Isaiah McDuffie made some big plays and the Eagles' defense stiffened. But UNC has an offense that is much more talented than Texas State, one that could wear down Boston College's D.
Turnovers have been important to Boston College's early success with six takeaways in two games. As mentioned, North Carolina gave the ball away three times against the Cuse. The ball-hawking Eagle defense knows that one way to stay in this game is to take the ball away from the Heels.
When Boston College Has the Ball
The strength of the Boston College offense is an offensive line that returns four starters from last year. Both tackles, Ben Petrula and Tyler Vrabel, were selected to Athlon's preseason All-ACC first team. They also bring back punishing back David Bailey, who had 844 rushing yards in a reserve role last season.
But so far this season, Boston College has just 171 total rushing yards in two games and currently rank last in the ACC in that department. Forty-four of those yards are from quarterback Phil Jurkovec with Bailey and backup Travis Levy combining for 106 on the ground. Making this even more interesting is that the Eagles haven't been able to take advantage of their matchups. Boston College gained just 84 yards on 42 carries against Duke, a team that surrendered 178 rushing yards to Notre Dame and 188 vs. Virginia. The Eagles didn't fare much better last week against Texas State, finishing with 87 yards on 27 carries (3.2 ypc) against a team that ranked 120th nationally last season when it came to stopping the run.
With the struggles on the ground, the offense has been carried by Jurkovec. The new quarterback has thrown for 510 yards and three scores in his two outings. But Jurkovec alone won't be enough against a North Carolina defense that allowed just 202 yards of total offense to Syracuse, especially if Boston College's offensive line can't do a better job of protecting the quarterback. Duke had six sacks two weeks ago and Texas State followed that up with a couple more last Saturday.
The Tar Heels recorded seven sacks versus the Orange with All-ACC performer Chazz Surratt and fellow linebacker Tomon Fox combining for five. The Boston College offensive line's battle with the UNC front will be a key aspect in the outcome of this game.
From a personnel perspective, North Carolina has all the advantages. Offensively, the Tar Heels are deeper and more talented at all of the skill positions, and based on the way the Boston College offensive line has played so far this year, they at least are on equal footing up front. On the other side of the ball, Carolina returns most of the major contributors from a unit that was vastly superior to Boston College last year. However, the Tar Heels haven't played in three weeks while the Eagles have established a regular-season rhythm. Virginia Tech and Virginia finally opened their seasons last week after several delays and did so in fine fashion, but the layoff could impact the Heels' performance this week. But in the end, talent will win out. North Carolina's defense will frustrate the Eagles and the offense will again hit its stride in the second half as UNC moves to 2-0.
Prediction: North Carolina 27, Boston College 17
Podcast: CFB Week 5 Preview + Predictions
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.