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Q&A with Tar Heel Blog: Why does North Carolina sound a lot like the Dykes era?

Get to know our first opponent of 2017 straight from the Tar Heel’s mouth.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

This is the first time in the history of feet and balls that the California Golden Bears have faced off against the North Carolina Tar Heels on the gridiron. We here at CGB barely understand football—so needless to say, we know very little about the Tar Heels. So, why phone it in when we can phone a friend?

We chatted with Jake Lawrence of the Tar Heel Blog to assess the heels in anticipation of our season opening. And Q&Away we go!

1. Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?

Jake Lawrence (JL): This is tricky. UNC replaced their entire backfield, three WRs, the QB, and half of the OL. So, I'll go with starting WR Austin Proehl. He stepped up late last year and is the only returning "contributor" on offense. He's not super fast, but extremely precise in his route running and has great hands. He should find success on 7–12 yard routes and along the sidelines.

2. Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?

JL: Defensive back M.J. Stewart. Todd McShay currently rates him as the #2 CB for the 2018 NFL Draft. He's a lockdown corner and versatile enough to line up almost anywhere on the field. All that was missing last year were some elusive interceptions.

3. Who's one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for North Carolina?

JL: Brandon Fritts and Carl Tucker, whichever one starts at TE. Injuries and other offensive weapons limited their impact last season, but with so many new faces, there's a belief the TEs could emerge as a legitimate (and necessary) weapon. With a new starting QB, they may provide a safety valve on short routes and up the seams.

NCAA Football: Georgia Tech at North Carolina
Keep your eyes on Brandon Fritts for some big plays and some moves like this.
James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

4. What would North Carolina need to do to win the game?

JL: There are plenty of ways to skin a cat, but in this case, I'm looking for UNC to win the time of possession. Under Larry Fedora, UNC has had an explosive offense that relies on big plays and quick drives. That has left an underwhelming defense to spend an uncomfortable amount of time on the field. With so many new pieces on offense, I think ball control will be important to help the team find a rhythm and gain some early confidence. But, Larry Fedora only cares about points, so that probably won't happen.

5. What would Cal need to do to win the game?

JL: Conversely, Cal needs to force short, quick drives and flip the field position throughout the afternoon. Many are expecting the UNC defense to take a huge step forward after two years of steady improvement. Cal needs to force the Heel's defense to stay on the field and make plays. Challenge the linebackers specifically on short-to-medium routes in the passing game, take small chunks of yards, and extend their drives.

6. How do you see this game going?

JL: Either a 12–10 offensive debacle or a 45–43 defensive atrocity.

7. What are the best and worst things about Chapel Hill? Any recommendations for Cal fans heading to the game?

JL: I've yet to find a classier or more friendly fan base, who also maintain a surprising passion and knowledge of the game and the team. Talk to us. Make some friends. If you're visiting, then you have to hit up Franklin Street. It has a mix of bars and restaurants that will meet whatever your wallet and taste buds desire. My personal favorite is the local brewery—Top of the Hill—on the corner of Columbia and Franklin.

San Diego State v North Carolina
Cal fans should expect to see this.
Photo by Lance King/Getty Images

8. What's the mood around the football team this season? What are fans expecting?

JL: A winning season, a bowl game, and to find out what kind of talent we have for next year. We're not delusional and the team may surprise like they did in 2015, but this isn't a rebuilding year either.

9. UNC has an over/under of 7 wins and was picked to finish 5th in the Coastal Division. Does that feel right?

JL: It's fair, considering the turnover on offense, but I think it underestimates the defense. I personally think 8–4 or even 9–3 is completely possible. I'd bet the over for this season. The ACC Coastal is always full of chaos. Always.

10. How are fans and boosters feeling about Coach Fedora? What are his strengths and weaknesses?

JL: I like to say the fanbase is optimistically frustrated. There have been more than a few games that UNC should never have lost that leave us scratching our heads. Questionable situational awareness and clock management have been a recurring theme through his tenure.

Then the team wins the Coastal in 2015 (and 2012, though they had a postseason ban). They pull off the upset at Tallahassee last season. They just received a commit from a 5-star WR. The program is in a really good place. With two full recruiting classes under his belt (after his first three seasons were strapped with scholarship restrictions), we have reason to be more hopeful than at any time in the past 15 years.

11. Based on your recent depth chart release, you have three quarterbacks. Should we expect a revolutionary A-111 offense with all three on the field at once? What's going on here?

JL: We have no idea. Nobody has any idea. I will say that Brandon Harris and Chazz Surratt are most likely to be true dual-threat QBs, whereas Nathan Elliott is a more traditional pocket passer. But, Fedora's offense has averaged over 30 points every season since he arrived at North Carolina—while starting three very different quarterbacks. You will very likely see multiple tempos, a few trick plays, and plenty of questionable decisions.

11. Whom do you most want to punch in the face?

JL: In no particular order, SEC Commissioner Greg Sankey, men's basketball commentator Dan Dakich, and anybody who says Die Hard is not a Christmas movie.

All offense at the expense of the defense? Confuddling clock management and situational playcalling? That sounds oddly familiar—although Fedora was able to keep his team bowling and win the division in his reign. With that in mind and knowing how inexperienced their offense is, I’m starting to feel much better about this game.

Thanks again to Jake and the Tar Heel Blog for getting us all educated so we can sound like experts when discussing the game. Check out the Tar Heel Blog for all things North Carolina because they’re pretty swell.


How do you predict the game going?

This poll is closed

  • 9%
    Big North Carolina win
    (36 votes)
  • 26%
    Close North Carolina win
    (98 votes)
  • 51%
    Close Cal win
    (191 votes)
  • 11%
    Big Cal win
    (43 votes)
368 votes total Vote Now