What 2 Watch 4 is back! I’m going to give you 4 ‘things’ to watch during the game – player match-ups, strengths/weaknesses, etc. – so you’ll have a sense of what to watch for as the game plays out. I’m going to give you 4 keys to the game, so to speak, based on my research of this opponent, and 2 predictions based on those things we’ll be watching to play a large role in the eventual outcome of the game. Ergo, you have “what 2 watch 4”.
Last week’s prediction of 52-31 Cards wasn’t that far off on the Purdue side and might have been spot on overall had we not turned the ball over in the red zone multiple times. My specific predictions last week: of 4 different Cards scoring sort of landed, if we count Stacy Thomas’ pick-6, and the 300+ passing and 3 TDs was close with the Purdue QBs combining for 293 and 4 TDs.
Brohm’s new Purdue offense was good, minus the turnovers. Purdue’s defense was pretty good, but we stopped ourselves more often than the other way around. And our defense looked pretty good (with the exception of open field tackling – my pet peeve). Overall, we got the scare I thought we might get, it was just quite a bit scarier than I might have predicted, but the good news is that we weathered the storm and a win is a win.
This week, we have a North Carolina team that just lost at home to California, so they’ll want to rebound from that, especially since they gave up 14 fourth-quarter points and only scored a consolation touchdown on the last play of the game to earn that 5-point loss. The Tar Heels weren’t picked to be a contender in the ACC, but this team poses a similar match-up to last week’s – rebuilding team with a ton of talent but some question marks in key places that will probably play better than their record shows. This means we need to have learned from overlooking Purdue and really gameplan well for North Carolina.
Contain and Wrap! Louisville will need to significantly improve open field tackling to stop UNC’s rushing attack.
My pet peeve is going to be a make or break for the Cards this week. The Tar Heels have two very good running backs in freshman Michael Carter (11 for 94, 2 TDs vs Cal) and sophomore Jordan Brown (13 for 54 vs Cal), and they like to spread the field with speed options, tosses and swing passes. Being an option team they have a running threat at the QB position as well. UNC tried a QB-by-committee system against Cal, but one could argue that’s why they lost that football game. Brandon Harris was awful and threw 2 interceptions to go with his 7 of 16 for 60 yards passing effort. That said, even Harris is a threat to run, if he is in this week’s plans. Chaz Surratt, the redshirt-freshman who showed more with his arms and his legs, finished with 227 all-purpose yards and 2 TDs, which doesn’t sound like much but when you consider he basically only played 9 of the team’s 14 offensive possessions, that’s not too bad. His QBR of 54.6 isn’t super impressive but it beats Harris’ 8.3, so I suspect we’ll see Surratt for most of the game. He’s as shifty as his running backs, deceptively quick and makes guys miss when it looks like he’s going to lose yards. He also was a speed option quarterback in high school, so he fits perfectly into what Fedora wants to do with this offense. Surratt, Carter and Brown (combined 214 yards rushing and 3 scores last week) will be a real challenge to defend. Fortunately, that plays into Louisvlle’s strength as a run stopping team, so if the Cards show an improvement on fundamental tackling and pursuit, if they’re able to contain the option threat and stop the run, that will go a long way towards separating the Cards from the Heels in this game.
Find the balance this week, Lamar. Throw & Run.
North Carolina may have intercepted Cal QB Ross Bowers twice, but the redshirt sophomore’s first college start was pretty solid otherwise – 24 for 38 passing for 363 yards and 4 TDs. With due respect to Mr. Bowers, he’s not the reining Heisman Trophy winner, so Lamar should be able to find some openings to throw if he picks his spots and is careful not to turn the ball over. On the flip side though, UNC gave up only 102 yards on 31 carries to Cal’s running backs, a 3.3 yard average, with Bowers contributing effectively 0 to the rushing attack. Without a solidified backfield partner, the running load may again fall to Lamar, but that’s probably the best guy for that to fall to.
Key on the run and the short stuff, but don’t get beat deep.
North Carolina’s leading receiver last week was actually RB Jordan Brown, who came out of the backfield to collect 9 catches for 53 yards. Two other Heels tallied 4 receptions on the day, and the rest of the receivers were 1s or 2s. It isn’t a particularly terrifying receiving corps, but 6 of the 8 receivers caught at least 1 pass that gained between 10 and 20 yards. Make no mistake, Surratt has a decent arm, but Fedora played the odds with his inexperienced QB and focused on short-to-medium throws and the run game. Those plays shouldn’t kill Louisville if the offense is on its game, but if the Cards’ defense doesn’t pay attention to my 1st key – contain and wrap! – then those will turn into big plays in a hurry and would allow the Tar Heels a route into making it a real contest. These plays need to be limited in quantity and also kept from becoming big plays.
Win the turnover battle.
Nobody ever suggested a team purposely lose a turnover battle, but this team in particular would be a good one to win it against. Similarly to Purdue being allowed to stick around against Louisville, having “forced” 3 fumbles and recovering them all, North Carolina was kept in the game by their defense who had 2 pivotal interceptions, 1 in the 2nd quarter at midfield that resulted in a UNC touchdown drive and another late in the 3rd quarter that was returned to the 4 yard line and resulted in a UNC go-ahead touchdown to put the Heels up 24-21 to start the 4th. It’s imperative that Louisville take better care of the ball this week against a better opponent who forced the turnovers they got as opposed to the giveaways Louisville had against Purdue. The good news though is that UNC running back did lose a fumble, albeit early in the game, and the Louisville defense is kind of known for forcing turnovers. Even if Brandon Harris’ 2 INTs aren’t on the table this week, a backfield of a redshirt freshman QB, a freshman RB and a sophomore RB who ran for 45 total yards last season, is inexperienced enough to have the potential to be rattled by Louisville’s high pressure, high intensity defense. The key will be for Louisville to not turn the ball over though, because I wouldn’t expect a flurry of fumbles and picks on the other side. A simple 2 to 1 win in the takeaways department should do nicely.
Prediction 1: Return of LaMack. Lamar scores 4 TDs
I’m not sure I want to outright call for one of those video game performances in this one, since UNC’s linebackers are actually pretty good (took both INTs last week). I will say that I think that Lamar is going to keep pace with at least his 2 passing TDs carrying over from last week, and he’ll finish at least 1 of his runs in the end zone. Add a +1 to either of those numbers and that’s my prediction for Lamar’s day.
And no, I’m not apologizing for that horrible pun referencing a classic from Mark Morrison.
Prediction 2: Lamar will have at least 2 passes go for 40+
North Carolina gave up 4 TD passes to California of 10 yards, 67 yards, 54 yards, and 20 yards respectively, all to 4 different receivers. Not only are the Heels susceptible to giving up big plays, but they’ve shown they’ll give them up to an inexperienced passing attack and they often went for scores. It’s not a bold statement to say Lamar Jackson and the Louisville receiving corps are more dangerous opposition. If Lamar has time to throw, big plays will happen.
Louisville scraped by last week with a performance that wasn’t their best. This week’s match-up won’t have been one circled on the calendar in the off-season, but it’s one that could be a trap should the Cards look ahead to Clemson. A step up in performance against a step up in opposition should yield a similar scoreline, but a far more confidence-inspiring result to take forward.
Score Prediction: Louisville 49 – North Carolina 31
Andy Knabel joined on as a contributing writer for The Cardinal Connect in August of 2013. You can follow Andy on Twitter @knabelism.