New schedule or old, the University of North Carolina remain a home game for BC football. We had a chance to speak with Jake Lawrence from Tar Heel Blog to learn a little more about UNC football and what to expect when they make the trip to Chestnut Hill. Last season, the Tar Heels finished 7-6, but look poised to be in contention to win the Coastal this time around.
1. The program clearly had a massive turnaround in Mack Brown’s first season back in charge. QB Sam Howell was fantastic as a true freshman, showing real promise, and the team as a whole seemed to undergo a major culture shift. How was Coach Brown able to make such a quick fix?
The simplest answers are that he wasn’t Larry Fedora and he hired a phenomenal staff. The program needed a change after 2018 and 2019, so truthfully, almost any coach would have shown improvement, because talent was not the biggest issue. Aside from Howell, every single major contributor last season was a Fedora-recruited player. Brown, however, exudes enthusiasm and energy. That positive attitude changed the culture.
Mack also hired a great staff and follows a very simple philosophy. They put players in their best positions to succeed. The staff doesn’t force players into a scheme or give up when a certain position doesn’t work. All-ACC linebacker Chazz Surratt, who was a former starting quarterback, is an example. It sounds easy enough, but too many coaches are stubborn or committed to “their” way.
2. What are your predictions for Howell this season, and how do you think he’ll deal with the added pressure of loftier expectations?
Dealing with the expectations won’t be an issue. The scary thing for opponents is UNC returns four players who gained 1,000 yards from scrimmage, and the entire team had another year to learn OC Phil Longo’s system. In a non-COVD world, surpassing last year’s totals (3,641 yards, 38 touchdowns), is a fair expectation. Whatever the season looks like, I expect Howell to set the foundation for a Heisman campaign in his junior season.
3. What other offensive player is the most dangerous weapon the team fields? Who might be poised to break-out?
The most explosive player is junior wide receiver, Dyami Brown. He finished his sophomore season with 1,032 yards, 12 touchdowns, and averaged 20.2 ypc. Mostly a deep threat, there’s room for improvement across the middle of the field.
The break-out candidate, though, is junior running back Javonte Williams (933 yards, 5 TDs). Even though the Heels have a returning 1,000 yard rusher in Michael Carter, Williams runs with a power and anger that is mentally and physically exhausting. The running game didn’t find the end zone often last year, but if UNC can figure out some red zone woes, Williams will benefit.
4. What position group needs to make the most improvements for the Tar Heels to take that next step?
Most will focus on the secondary, but a rash of injuries last season skewed that perception. Instead, my concern is the defensive line. UNC lost Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford, who were on the field for a combined 1,384 snaps last year. That’s insane, sad, comical, or a combination of the three.
The front four have to step up in both production and depth. Otherwise similar mid-season breakdowns that happened against UVA, Pittsburgh, and Virginia Tech, are going to repeat themselves.
5. Elephant in the room, Coach Brown will be 69 when the season starts. As the oldest coach in the ACC, will he or the team take any extra precautions and considerations, and how difficult might that make things?
There isn’t any indication they’ll do anything “extra”, but they are taking common sense precautions. At-risk staff members can stay at home. They’re allowing players to keep their scholarship if they decide to opt-out of this season. The staff is wearing face masks and using six-foot poles to socially distance where possible.
6. How far can this team go? What would constitute a successful season?
Assuming an 11-game season, if they go 7-4 and get to a tier-1 bowl, most fans will be satisfied. However, considering the state of the ACC Coastal, a division title is a fair expectation for this year’s team. Go 8-3 or 9-2, and get back to the ACC title game, and the program gains significant momentum.
7. Assuming the game stands, how do you think the BC-UNC game will go?
Assuming everyone stays healthy, think this one goes to UNC. Just too much talent on the field for BC to overcome, especially with a first-year head coach and all the adventures that come with that. However, if it stays at Chestnut Hill in November, a heavy ground attack and cold weather could keep the UNC offense from gaining momentum and make the game a toss-up.
Thanks to Jake for giving us a quick preview on Tar Heel Football. Be sure to check out Tar Heel Blog for more insights on UNC. We’ll look to check back in if and when we get closer to gameday.