North Carolina plays against San Diego State on Saturday night at Kenan Stadium. Kickoff is at 8:05, the game will be broadcast nationally on ESPNews and it's an old-fashioned “Tar Pit Stripe Out” game at Kenan.
Some pregame thoughts, notes and a prediction:
–How big of a step up is this?
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The Tar Heels played Liberty last week if you just looked at the final score – a 27-point victory – you might think things went about as expected, that UNC mostly had its way. You'd be wrong. It was a six-point game at halftime, and a game Liberty led roughly midway through the third quarter. Outside of a four-minute stretch in which the Tar Heels scored four times there was, coach Larry Fedora said, “nothing pretty” about it – and, in fact, UNC was outscored outside those four minutes. It gets more difficult this week. UNC should beat San Diego State, but it shouldn't have any difficulty last week, too. The Aztecs are capable of hanging with the Tar Heels, mostly thanks to their talent at the skill positions on offense (and namely sophomore running back Donnel Pumphrey). The question is whether the Tar Heels can avoid the kind of mistakes – a botched snap, a silly penalty, a turnover that led to a touchdown – that hampered them last week. If the answer is yes, maybe this is a pretty easy game. If not ...
--Can UNC better control the line of scrimmage on both sides?
Fedora wasn't too impressed, not in the least, by his offensive and defensive lines last week. The Tar Heels weren't bad. They weren't good. Fedora gave the lines a C grade. The defensive line, especially, failed to generate the kind of push and pressure UNC wants, though part of that is attributable to the plays Liberty ran, and particularly its quick passing. Size-wise, at least, UNC will face a challenge against San Diego State. The Aztecs are large up front. The weights of their starting offensive linemen, left to right: 310, 325, 295, 315, 335. That's a fairly massive line. Defensively, San Diego State's three-man front isn't tremendously big, and the Tar Heels should be able to create running room. Will they?
--Chaos? What chaos?
Fedora said earlier this week that he was expecting “chaos” from San Diego State's defense but, if you read my q-and-a with Aztecs beat writer Tod Leonard, you know that thought is a bit silly. San Diego State used eight first-time starters on defense last week, is inexperienced in the secondary and banged up at linebacker. Rocky Long, the San Diego State coach, simply doesn't have the personnel to create much chaos, the thought goes, but that doesn't mean he won't try some interesting, different schemes. No, the real chaos could be the kind UNC attempts to create, particularly in the passing game against the Aztecs’ green secondary. UNC quarterback Marquise Williams underthrew a couple of long passes last week that were intercepted and Fedora said he'd love to have those back. He likely will this week. The opportunities should be there. Can Williams make the most of them?
--UNC is anticipating a sell-out crowd at Kenan Stadium for this “Tar Pit Stripe Out” game. The logos on the field will be painted blue and black. The jerseys UNC wears will be blue and black. The crowd will be blue and black. Lots of blue and black.
–If you're wondering how successful San Diego State has been on the east coast the answer is “not too successful.” Another way to put it would be “bad.” The Aztecs are 2-10 all time in the eastern time zone, with victories against Kent State (1972) and Army (2011).
--This is UNC's first Saturday night game at Kenan Stadium against an FBS opponent since 2008, when it played Connecticut. The Tar Heels played at night against Florida State in 2009 and against Miami last season, but those were on Thursday nights.
UNC 43, San Diego State 24
Andrew Carter is the UNC athletics beat reporter for The News & Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow him on Twitter at @_andrewcarter .