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Preview: FSU vs UNC

FSU hits the road for the second time this season when it takes on North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday afternoon. The Tar Heels are decided favorite (17.5 points) against the Seminoles despite there not having lived up to the expectations most experts had for them coming into the season. North Carolina enters the game with a 3-2 overall record and are 2-2 halfway through their ACC schedule. FSU (1-4 and 1-2) heads into the game with some momentum on the heels (no pun intended) of its last play win over Syracuse last week. FSU leads the all-time series between the two schools 16-3-1. The game will be televised by ESPN with a 3:30 p.m. kickoff. Bob Wischusen will call the game for ESPN and be joined in the booth by analyst Dan Orlovsky.

Coaches Corner

UNC Is led by FSU alum Mack Brown, who is in his second stint as the Tar Heels head coach. Brown has an overall record of 262-134-1 in his 33 years as a college head coach. His 87-58-1 record makes him the winningest coach in UNC history. Brown enters Saturday’s game looking for his first win against FSU as a head coach.

UNC’s offensive coordinator is Phil Longo, who has been with Brown for the two and half seasons he has been at the helm of the Tar Heel program. Prior to joining the staff at UNC, Longo was the OC at Ole Miss for two seasons and held the same role at Sam Houston State and Slippery Rock before his stint in Oxford.

Jay Bateman coordinates the Tar Heels’ defense. Bateman is in his third season with Brown. Prior to joining Brown in Chapel Hill, Bateman spent five seasons leading the Army defense. Bateman had been the defensive coordinator at Ball State and Elon prior to his stop at West Point.

By The Numbers

UNC Total Offense- 496.8 YPG (13th in NCAA) vs FSU Total Defense- 409.4 YPG (93rd in NCAA)

UNC Rushing Offense- 187.2 YPG (39th) vs FSU Rushing Defense- 153.6 YPG (85th)

UNC Passing Offense- 309.6 YPG (15th) vs FSU Passing Defense- 256.2 YPG (103rd)

UNC Scoring Offense- 37.6 PPG (20th) vs FSU Scoring Defense- 31.4 PPG (105th)

UNC Third-Down Offense- 48.3% (22nd) vs FSU Third-Down Defense- 40.4% (87th)

UNC Sacks Allowed- 22 (126th) vs FSU Sacks Made- 14 (29th)

UNC Run Plays Over 10 yards- 34 (19th) vs FSU Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 23 (77th)

UNC Pass Plays Over 20 yards- 24 (15th) vs FSU Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 20 (109th)

FSU Total Offense- 384.6 YPG (74th) vs UNC Total Defense- 368.6 YPG (67th)

FSU Rushing Offense-201.4 YPG (28th) vs UNC Rush Defense- 142.8 YPG (73rd)

FSU Passing Offense- 182.2 YPG (110th) vs UNC Pass Defense- 225.8 YPG (69th)

FSU Scoring Offense- 25 PPG (87th) vs UNC Scoring Defense- 25 PPG (73rd)

FSU Third-Down Offense- 35.8% (93rd) vs UNC Third-Down Defense- 34.2% (41st)

FSU Sacks Allowed- 17 (118th) vs UNC Sacks Made- 11 (60th)

FSU Run Plays Over 10 yards- 34 (19th) vs UNC Runs Allowed Over 10 yards- 17 (31st)

FSU Pass Plays Over 20 Yards- 10 (110th) vs UNC Passes Allowed Over 20 yards- 16 (75th)

UNC on Offense

North Carolina’s spread offense is based out of 11-personnel (one running back, one tight end). Despite being led by quarterback Sam Howell (6-1, 225), who was a preseason Heisman favorite, the Tar Heels have been very balanced offensively. In fact, 54-percent of their offensive snaps have been runs where they are averaging 4.9 yards per attempt.

Howell’s season got off to a rough start. In the season opener against Virginia Tech he completed just 17 of 32 passes and threw three interceptions. Since then Howell has looked more like the player most feel will be one of the top quarterbacks in next spring’s NFL draft. He has completed 64 percent of his passes in the team’s last four games while throwing 13 touchdowns against just one interception. In all four of those games Howell threw for over 300 yards and had at least one completion of more than 55 yards.

Howell has also been very productive on the ground this season where has rushed for 436 yards on 68 carriers. Junior running back Ty Chandler (6-0, 210) leads the team in rushing with 437 yards on 74 carries and has scored four touchdowns. The pair have accounted for 78 percent of the teams rushing yards and all but two of its touchdowns rushing.

Sophomore wide receiver Josh Downs (5-10, 160) has far and away been Howell’s favorite target this season. Downs has caught 40 passes for 620 yards and six touchdowns. No other receiver on the team has more that 15 receptions but have 12 players who have caught at least one pass this season. Sophomore tight end Kamari Morales from Tallahassee (Fla.) Lincoln High is second on the team with 15 receptions. Junior wide receiver Emery Simmons (6-0, 195) is second on the team in receiving yards (236) and third on the team in receptions with 10 catches.

The offensive line averages 6-4 and 325-pounds and has plenty of experience. Starting right guard Marcus McKethan (6-6, 335) has started 29 games, right tackle Jordan Tucker (6-6, 340) has started 27 games, left guard Josh Ezedu (6-4, 320) has started 20 games and center Brian Anderson (6-2, 305) has started 25 games.

UNC on Defense

The Tar Heels run a mostly odd-front defense, which utilizes base 3-4 and 3-3-5 personnel groupings. It is a very experienced group that features seven starters who are either junior or seniors and have played a lot of football. Nine players on their two-deep have started at least 11 games in their careers with three players have started at least 30 career games.

The defensive line features four players who have already reached double digits in tackles this season. Sophomore Kaimon Rucker (6-1, 265) and junior Tomari Fox (6-1, 290) have combined to make 27 tackles this season while splitting playing time at defensive end. Senior nose tackle Ray Vohasek has 12 stops on the season and is a returning starter from last year’s team. Sophomore defensive tackle Myles Murphy (6-3, 305) might be the team’s best player up front. He is certainly the most productive. He leads the team in tackles for a loss (6.5) and sacks (3).

Senior linebacker Jeremiah Gemmel (6-1, 225) leads the team with 44 tackles on the season including three TFLs. Senior outside linebacker Toman Fox (6-3, 265) is the most experienced player on the team with 40 career starts. He has made 12 tackles on the year but has been very disruptive off the edge and leads the team five quarterback pressures. He is third on the team with two sacks.

The defensive backfield is led by safeties Ja’Qurious Conley (6-0, 210) and Trey Morrison (5-9, 190). Conley is a sophomore and is second on the team with 25 tackles and leads the team with two interception. Morrison is a senior and is third on the team with 24 stops and is tied for the team lead in forced fumbles. His 36 career starts bring a veteran presence to the defense.

Through five games this season UNC’s defense has totaled 30 TFLs, 11 sacks, four interceptions and 17 quarterback pressures.

UNC on Special Teams

Senior Grayson Atkins (5-9, 210) will handle the place-kicking duties, while junior Ben Kiernan (5-11, 215) will do the punting.

Atkins is just 4 of 7 on the season kicking field goals and has not made a kick beyond 39 yards so far this season.

Kiernan hasn’t been needed a lot this season but has averaged 44.8 yards on his 16 punts. Six of his punts have pinned opponents inside their own 20-yard line. Opponents have attempted eight punt returns this season, where they have averaged 7.5 yards per return.

Downs is the team’s primary punt returner and he has averaged 10.2 yards on his nine return opportunities.

The Tar Heels have only attempted four kickoff returns this season on 34 chances. All four returns have been made by different players.