Tar Heels host Middle Tennessee in home opener
North Carolina coach Larry Fedora said his team won't let the sting from an opening loss at highly ranked South Carolina linger. The Tar Heels can prove it Saturday against Middle Tennessee in their home debut.
The Tar Heels (0-1) struggled offensively in the 27-10 loss to the Gamecocks, while their defense again gave up too many big plays in a recurring theme from last year. It was a performance that Fedora said left him "disappointed but not discouraged."
"One game doesn't make our season," Fedora said. "And actually all the goals we have set have nothing to do with that first game. (If) we do what we're supposed to do, people won't even talk about that first game at the end of the year."
North Carolina's 10 points and 293 total yards against the Gamecocks were the lowest in 13 games under Fedora, who served as offensive coordinator at Middle Tennessee from 1999-2001. But quarterback Bryn Renner said his team remained confident it could get rolling against the Blue Raiders (1-0).
"We're never going to lose our confidence," Renner said. "We know we can score very quickly and we can also improve. ... The best thing we can do is move forward."
Coming off a win against Western Carolina, Middle Tennessee is playing an Atlantic Coast Conference team for the ninth straight year. The Blue Raiders are 3-9 against ACC teams, but have beaten Maryland twice (2008 and 2009) and won 49-28 at Georgia Tech last year.
"I don't think it's so much the ACC success we've had, but it's just a matter of playing a good football game, protecting the football ... and not giving up big plays on the defensive side," Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. "If you do that, no matter who you play, you've got a chance to win the game."
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's Middle Tennessee-North Carolina matchup:
UNC'S TEMPO: The Tar Heels' no-huddle spread offense rewrote school record books last year by making quick marches down the field. Against the Gamecocks, however, UNC's two scoring drives were 16 and 17 plays with each lasting more than 6 minutes. It would help the Tar Heels to connect on a couple of big plays to seize momentum and push the tempo.
KILGORE'S SHOULDER: Middle Tennessee quarterback Logan Kilgore injured his right throwing shoulder during last week's win against Western Carolina. Kilgore is likely to start against the Tar Heels though Stockstill said his senior probably won't be 100 percent for the game. The coach said the team has limited Kilgore's throws this week, but said his quarterback is "a mentally and physically tough person and player."
BLUE RAIDERS' ACC EXPERIENCE: How much does Middle Tennessee's win against Georgia Tech last year really mean? Yes, it came against a team that played in the ACC championship game. But the Yellow Jackets' triple-option attack is a run-heavy scheme that will be nothing like the what the Tar Heels will aim to run Saturday. Still, it should give Middle Tennessee added confidence that it can win on the road. "If there was any thought of flying in under the radar, it's ridiculous," Kilgore said. "They know what type of team that Georgia Tech was last year and they know what we did to them."
TAR HEEL RUNNERS: The Tar Heels are still deciding who will carry the load at tailback with the departure of Gio Bernard to the NFL. Romar Morris ran for 69 yards on 15 carries to go with two catches for 18 yards against South Carolina, while A.J. Blue added another 37 yards rushing. Fedora wants to have a balanced offense, so both Morris and Blue could get plenty of chances to run.
CUTTING DOWN BIG PLAYS: UNC associate head coach for defense Vic Koenning has overseen defensive turnarounds in previous stops at Clemson, Kansas State and Illinois. The opener was a mixed bag. Outside of allowing three scoring plays of 29, 65 and 75 yards, the Tar Heels held the Gamecocks to 237 yards — an average of about 4.2 yards per play. "We've just got to build on that," Koenning said.