We sent over some questions to our friends over at Tar Heel Blog and they were kind enough to answer them for us. Take a read below on their takes on the Cal-UNC Season Opener!
How will your suspensions impact the game?
Minimal. Most of the players suspended were back-ups or back-ups to back-ups. Even Chazz Surratt was expected to lose the quarterback battle. Both of our starting Defensive Ends will be active for Cal because UNC received a waiver to the suspensions of three DEs allowing the suspensions to be staggered.
What to expect from quarterback Nathan Elliott?
Not flashy. Tough. Was expected to beat out Chazz Surratt for the starting QB position before the suspension. Knows when to run and when to throw. The team rallied around him last season and he has earned rave reviews for his ability to control the game, earn the respect of his team, and stay calm and poised. He probably won’t kill you with a 40-yard bomb down the middle, but he has so many more weapons than last year that he doesn’t need to. I’ll be shocked to see a repeat of last year’s QB performance.
Was 3–9 a blip?
I wholeheartedly think last year was a blip. Before the halfway point in the season, UNC basically lost an entire starting lineup of players with season ending injuries. I firmly believe they were a 6-win team last season in what was already expected to be a rebuilding year. There’s some rumblings in our fanbase, but it’s misguided and really a result of an avoidable 2016 season where a 10- or 11-win team only won 8 games. Even including last year’s debacle, Fedora is averaging 8 wins a season at UNC. Not spectacular, but consistent. They get back on track this year.
Which player on offense should Cal fans know about?
You’ll probably hear his name quite a bit, so this isn’t anything fancy. Wide Receiver Antonio Ratliff-Williams is the guy to watch. He’s basically a triple threat who threw, caught, and returned touchdowns last season. He took full advantage of increased playing time last season when half the receiving corps was injured and finished with 630 yards on just 35 receptions. The returning leading receiver and kick returner was an All-ACC selection last year, and is primed for a true breakout season.
Which player on defense should Cal fans know about?
Ask a UNC fan this question, and you’ll get 19 difference answers. I’ll go with junior DT Jason Strowbridge. Standing at 6-4 and 270 pounds, Strowbridge had a decent sophomore campaign with 34 tackles (5.5 for loss), and one sack. All indications are that he’s gotten faster, stronger, and more explosive in the middle of the line. The Heels HAVE to generate more of a pass rush this season—and I think that starts with Strowbridge demanding attention in the middle.
Who’s one under-the-radar or X-factor player who could swing this game for North Carolina?
Fifth-year senior Thomas Jackson. He’s not flashy and got a medical hardship waiver after tearing his ACL in the third game of the season last year. Jackson’s strength is his knowledge of the offense and ability to run precise routes. Those will both be assets to an unestablished starting quarterback who will likely need a safety valve across the middle or on some quick outs to the sideline. He won’t burn you downfield, but in his two full games in 2017, he had 2 redzone touchdown catches while Austin Proehl (now with the Bills) and Anthony Ratliff-Williams garnered most of the attention by the opposing secondary.
What does North Carolina need to do to win the game?
Quarterback Nathan Elliott has to not commit turnovers and the offense has to extend drives. Last year they were 119th in the nation in offensive third-down conversions. As the bodies piled up, they just could not stay on the field. When they did get in third-and-short situations, they didn’t necessarily have the personnel to convert—or at least it appeared that’s what the coaching staff had determined. Those short drives meant the defense was constantly on the field—and they did an admirable job for three quarters—but the injuries, morale, and frustration often took over by the final period.
What does Cal need to do to win the game?
I am a big believer that UNC’s secondary is going to be a very solid unit. They lost a second-round draft pick in MJ Stewart, but have a good mix of talent and experience to be better than the sum of their parts. In the ACC Coastal this year, “solid” will win a lot of games. That being said….I would test them early and often. It worked for you guys last year when Ross Bowers had four touchdown passes.
If the defensive line is as good as we expect it to be, the running game should be stifled for the better part of the afternoon. UNC’s secondary has a history of blown assignments, missed tackles, and last year gave an ungodly amount of “catastrophic plays”—plays that go for over 50 yards. Test them, find holes in the coverage, and make them frustrated early. If Cal does that, the floodgates will open in the second half.
How do you see the game going?
I am one of the few UNC fans who unabashedly expects 8 wins this year, and I think this game is one of those victories. A close first quarter gives way to a 17-point second quarter by the Heels, who enter halftime with a 24–10 lead. Cal makes a run and enters the fourth quarter trailing 31–24. Then the Heels reverse last year’ fourth quarter demons, and run away with a 45–27 victory.
I do think these are two evenly-matched teams, but I just expect UNC’s offense to bounce back with a vengeance this season. I’m more “expectant” of it, while more fans are “hopeful”. Of course, a one-possession loss to the Golden Bears wouldn’t surprise me at all.
Whom do you most want to punch in the face?
I’ll go with anyone who still claims that UNC cheated, created fake classes, or set up eligibility loopholes for football and basketball players. It was a very complicated and nuanced situation—and not one that many UNC grads or fans are proud of. But, the narrative that was pushed by the majority of the media has led to a comical misunderstanding of the facts and circumstances. People are really just angry at the NCAA or don’t understand the NCAA, so they take their anger out on the school.
Now, I mostly roll my eyes now when someone says anything about it because people are just lazy. But, I also want to punch them in the face.
How do you see the game going?
This poll is closed
Big Cal win
Close Cal win
Close North Carolina win
Big North Carolina win