Who has the edge in Belk Bowl?

From staff reportsDecember 27, 2013 

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UNC's Ryan Switzer (3) leaves Old Dominion defenders Antonio Vaughan (5), Paul Morant (21) and Connor Mewbourne (71) in his wake as he runs a punt back for a touchdown during the third quarter of UNC’s 80-20 victory at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill on Nov. 23.

CHRIS SEWARD — cseward@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

When North Carolina has the ball

Rushing: North Carolina’s leading rusher is quarterback Marquise Williams, who has run for 490 yards this season, but none of the Tar Heels’ three running backs have gained more than T.J. Logan’s 456 yards. The Tar Heels are likely to be without A.J. Blue, a senior who has been limited because of injury since the end of the regular season. Cincinnati is allowing 98.7 rushing yards per game, which ranks fifth nationally.

Edge: Cincinnati

Passing: The Tar Heels’ offense has been better overall since Williams took over for the injured Bryn Renner in early November, but the passing game hasn’t been as sharp. Outside of the romp against FCS opponent Old Dominion, North Carolina hasn’t been as potent in the passing game with Williams. The Bearcats are stout against the pass, and rank in the top 31 nationally in passing yards allowed and pass efficiency defense.

Edge: Cincinnati

When Cincinnati has the ball

Rushing: The Bearcats’ rushing offense hasn’t been great – it ranks 68th nationally – but it was more of a strength than North Carolina’s run defense. Three Cincinnati backs – Hosey Williams, Ralph David Abernathy IV and Tion Green – have run for at least 400 yards. Still, Cincinnati has averaged more than 4 yards per carry just once in its past six games, and the Tar Heels’ run defense has improved since the start of the year.

Edge: North Carolina

Passing: Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay became the fourth player in school history to pass for 3,000 yards, and Cincinnati’s average of 314 passing yards per game ranks 15th nationally. Shaq Washington and Anthony McClung, Cincinnati’s leading receivers, both have caught at least 68 passes for 749 yards. North Carolina has cut down on the blown assignments, and the Tar Heels are getting better pressure up front, but the Bearcats have generated at least 270 yards passing in seven consecutive games.

Edge: Cincinnati

Special teams

North Carolina freshman receiver Ryan Switzer tied the ACC record with four punt returns for touchdowns, and he’s as potent a special teams player as there is in the nation. The Tar Heels have excelled at times in the kicking game, too, and punter Tommy Hibbard can effectively control field position. Cincinnati ranks either in the middle of the pack or toward the bottom nationally in several special teams categories.

Edge: North Carolina

Intangibles

Both teams began the season with grander aspirations than finishing in Charlotte at the Belk Bowl. Cincinnati was just here a year ago, when it beat Duke to finish 10-3 for the second consecutive season. A victory on Saturday would give the Bearcats their third consecutive 10-win season. North Carolina, meanwhile, is seeking a victory that would provide a positive ending to a trying season. After a 1-5 start, merely qualifying for a bowl was an accomplishment for the Tar Heels.

Edge: North Carolina

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