I reached out to T.H. from Carolina March and despite the craziness of the season (especially since it is both basketball and football season, and UNC fans do enjoy their basketball), he was kind enough to get back to me with some answers about the general state of their program and what Mizzou fans might expect from the game today. Take a read!
Positive, for the most part. Considering the fanbase was rather adamantly split between those who supported Butch Davis and those who felt he permanently besmirched the good name of the university, the fact that there wasn’t a large outcry from some faction says a lot. We’ll know a lot more once all the other hires have been announced and how the first draft class goes.
Despite have an entire season with an interim coach, the actual coaching search was pretty short, as there was a new athletic director to be hired as well. So there were a lot of names fans for kicking around right after Davis was fired – Mike Leach got a lot of early buzz, despite never really having a shot, in my opinion. Once Bubba Cunningham came along, Gus Malzahn was assumed to be the front-runner, as he and Cunningham had worked together at Tulsa, and Chris Petersen was name-dropped a lot, because Chris Petersen is listed in every coaching search, and will be until the end of time.
There’s no reason the football program can’t be the biggest in the state and at the top of the ACC; they were pretty close to achieving that under Mack Brown in the ‘90s. There seems to be a persistent belief among outside commentators that a prominent basketball program precludes being good at football, but no one thought the rise of Texas and Florida in basketball was going to hamper their performance on the gridiron. We’re a big school with a lot of success in a lot of sports, and there’s no reason that can be replicated in football.
The air kind of leaked out of this football season during the late October and early November stretch when the Heels lost four of five. That left UNC pretty low in the ACC standings, and conference rules demanded they be the last team chosen. And that would have placed them in the Armed Forces bowl in D.C., except Virginia Tech inexplicably got a BCS bowl bid.
So personally, as a D.C. resident, I’d have preferred the game I could attend, but a lot of other people preferred the day-after-Christmas game they could attend to the midweek one they couldn't. We’re excited the opponent is better than we we’re expecting, but, well, UNC from day one offered a deal where you could buy tickets to donate to soldiers, so I don’t think they’re expecting a huge turnout.
Last season was definitely done in by the suspensions, which weakened what was a really strong defense right when the offense under a senior quarterback peaked. If everyone walked the straight and narrow, they probably had at least three more wins. This season, they’re a young team, and some of their performance is understandable. Others – the shutout loss to N.C. State comes to mind – are inexplicable under any circumstances. If they were distracted by the administrative changes, I don’t see why, really. This team played to the level of their competition a lot over Butch Davis’s tenure, and I never could understand exactly why that was.
The personality of this team is pretty schizophrenic, actually. They’re prone to rely on the defense to shut the other team down, and the offense to do enough to win. Sometimes that works, and sometimes there are enough turnovers that there isn’t really anything the defense can do. And of course, the offense is directed by the often maddening John Shoop, so a late-game offense with a close score is going to be... something special.
On offense, Missouri will probably attack the UNC secondary pretty heavily. There’s a tendency for Carolina’s safeties to have mental lapses at inopportune times – you haven’t lived until you’ve seen Duke have multiple 50+ yard scoring strikes against you at home – and the Tigers can definitely make their mark there. UNC’s run defense is pretty good, but a really good running back can have some success.
Defending against the Tar Heels means first and foremost stopping Giovanni Bernard. He’s got terrific speed, and his short stature makes him really hard to track behind the line of scrimmage. Carolina also has a lot of talent in its receiving corps, starting with esteemed party-host Dwight Jones. He’s difficult to defend one-on-one, so the best solution is to not give the quarterback the opportunity to get him the ball. You’re lucky there in that the quarterback is first-year starter Bryn Renner, and the offensive line isn’t the strongest. A good defensive line and a strong rush can force Renner into some bad decisions, and although he’s not making as many of those as he was earlier this season, he’s got a lot yet to learn.
A score? Well, I always believe UNC can win, so I’ll give it to them, 31-27.