Tar Heels, Demon Deacons clash in Winston-Salem on Friday for rare non-conference matchup between ACC teams
In early August, Steven Lassan, Mitch Light, and I did our game-by-game predictions for North Carolina. All three of us had the Heels at 0-2 at this point in the season. But after two weeks Mack Brown's boys are sitting at 2-0 following a big win over Coastal rival Miami.
We each had UNC losing in week three as well, in an unusual non-conference game against Wake Forest. The Demon Deacons are also unbeaten, as they edged Utah State in week one and then went to Rice and took down the Owls 41-21.
The two ACC programs have only met up three times in the last 11 years, which is the big reason why they scheduled this as a non-conference game. Overall, North Carolina has won 67 of the 101 games played in the series.
North Carolina at Wake Forest
Kickoff: Friday, Sept. 13 at 6 p.m. ET
Spread: Wake Forest -3
When North Carolina Has the Ball
The most interesting part of the Carolina offense this year is how they have moved the ball. Coming into the season, it was expected that Brown would lean heavily on his experienced running backs which in turn would ease the load on true freshman quarterback Sam Howell. It is true that 97 FBS teams have thrown more passes than the Heels this year, but Howell has been very efficient and has thrown late touchdown passes to win each game.
But those backs are still there, especially sophomore Javonte Williams, who has rushed for 178 yards in the two games. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo would love to establish a balance with Williams, Michael Carter, and Antonio Williams. Howell may get more chances to throw though because...
The Wake Forest defense is 123rd nationally in stopping the pass after giving up 416 yards through the air to Jordan Love of Utah State and 254 yards to the Rice combo of Tom Stewart and Wiley Green. Love is an accomplished gunslinger but Rice had just 62 passing yards in their week one loss to Army. The Deacs do have five sacks in the first two games – two by end Carlos Basham – and will need to disrupt the young UNC quarterback that has yet to throw a pick.
When Wake Forest Has the Ball
Star running back Cade Carney missed the Rice game with a leg injury and is listed as questionable for the Carolina game. While Wake head coach Dave Clawson undoubtedly wants his 1,000-yard rusher to return, the injury gave Kenneth Walker a chance and the freshman from Arlington, Tenn., had a 96-yard touchdown run as part of his 125 rushing yards.
The star of the show so far this year, though, has most definitely been quarterback Jamie Newman. The junior that beat out Sam Hartman for the starting job has completed 74 percent of his passes with six touchdowns and no interceptions in the two wins. His biggest asset has been his ability to spread the ball around as Sage Surratt, Scotty Washington, and Kendall Hinton all have more than 10 receptions and each has at least one touchdown catch. Hinton has already been ruled out for Friday's game. He was dealing with a minor hamstring injury against Rice, but the exact reason for his absence on Friday has not been confirmed.
Expect Wake to try to get Carney and/or Walker going this weekend against the Heels. This appears to be an improved North Carolina defense under coordinator Jay Bateman, but they did give up 179 yards on the ground to Miami and have finished last or next to last in the ACC in rush defense every year since 2013. UNC also will have to keep an eye on Newman as he can make plays out of the pocket with both his arm and his legs.
This game may not count in the conference standings, but it is a big game for both teams. A win for North Carolina would mean three victories over Power 5 teams to start the year, with two of those coming away from Kenan Stadium. A start like that could help foster a belief that anything is possible for the Heels in the chaotic ACC Coastal. A Wake win, with FCS' Elon coming in next week, would most likely mean a 4-0 start and the Demon Deacons could then get ready for four consecutive Atlantic games against Boston College, Louisville, Florida State, and NC State. I think Carney comes back and is a force, Newman makes plays, and the Wake defense has its best showing of the year in a close victory.
Prediction: Wake Forest 24, North Carolina 17
— 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.