People don’t actually realize how close North Carolina was to having an Iowa-type situation this season. Other than one slip up, the Tar Heels have been taking advantage of a pretty ridiculously easy schedule (the dodged Clemson and FSU and their out of conference slate wasn’t the greatest), and because they’ve been decimating everything in their path since week two, the Heels have found themselves playing for the ACC title regardless of how Saturday pans out. But because of their lone loss to South Carolina all the way back in week one, nobody has really payed any attention to the Tar Heels. To be fair, there hasn’t really been a need to, simply because since losing they haven’t beaten any high ranked or even moderately ranked teams, and the assumption is that when they play Clemson in Charlotte for the title game, playing nothing but bad teams will finally catch up with the Heels. But before speculating on how that would go, we have to break down how the Heels can finish.
Marquise Williams Has Actually Been Really Good
A lot of people likely stopped paying attention to Marquise Williams after the South Carolina loss, considering he only threw a single touchdown and three picks. However, consider the fact that coming into his 12th game of the season, Williams has only thrown seven picks all season. That means that almost half of them occurred in the Tar Heels only loss, and showed that to lose to a bad team, the Heels needed a terrible performance from a pretty good player to do it. Beyond that, the Tar Heels have looked incredibly balanced, with Williams both throwing well and being second on the team in rushing yards behind running back Elijah Hood. However, the Wolfpack have had a stout defense on all fronts, and can defend the pass and run both pretty well. When the Heels have the ball it’s going to be a chess match to see which side can make the right plays that give them the edge. NC State isn’t incredibly good about taking the ball away, so if Williams and Hood can make smart players and secure the ball, they should have an advantage throughout.
The Wolfpack Needs To Run The Dang Ball
While NC State has been balanced in its defensive efforts in 2015, the Tar Heels have been a lot less so. While they can defend the pass better than most other teams in the country, there’s one dirty little secret about this defense: they can’t stop the run that well. The Heels currently rank 102nd in the nation in rushing defense, which puts them next to last in the ACC in that regard (behind Miami). So while the Wolfpack is going to want Jacoby Brissett to make a bunch of plays for them, they’d be better off relying on junior running back Matthew Dayes to find creases in the Heels shaky run defense and make plays that way. While they’ve improved, allowing less than 170 rush yards in their last three games, the Tar Heels have shown that if a decent enough running game can get going, it can give them trouble (which is why they only beat Pitt by seven). If the Wolfpack can find some running room, keep their offense on schedule, and not force themselves to have to throw the ball due to being down or trying to play fast, they can still upset the division champs.
Tar Heels Should Come Into Title Game With Some Steam
While I don’t think it’s ridiculous to say that NC State can’t hang with the Tar Heels (I actually think they’ve got a really good chance to beat them) I also think that the Tar Heels have played really well all year long, despite the lesser competition, and they’ve got a chance to come into the ACC title game and make some noise against Clemson. What’s interesting is of all the one-loss teams to be discussed, UNC has been left off of that list. But with a win over the current No. 1, that might change. Although this late in the year, it’s doubtful.