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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 7, 12:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Kenan Memorial Stadium (63,000) -- Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Television: ACC Network, ESPN3.com. Home Record: MT 1-0, UNC 0-0. Away Record: MT 0-0, UNC 0-1. Neutral Record: MT 0-0, UNC 0-0. Conference Record: MT 0-0, UNC 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: Following a loss to a top-10 SEC team in the season-opener, the North Carolina Tar Heels return home to battle Middle Tennessee at Kenan Memorial Stadium in week two.
The Tar Heels did battle with their neighbors from south of the border in a marquee Thursday night matchup in week one but were dismissed, 27-10, by then No. 6 South Carolina in the contest. The loss was the first for UNC in an opener since 2010 when the Tar Heels fell, 30-24 to LSU. The Tar Heels went 8-4 last season for their fourth eight-win season in the last five years.
Middle Tennessee got off to a more auspicious start, albeit against a weaker opponent. The Blue Raiders hosted FCS foe Western Carolina and posted a 45-24 victory in the opener. The new members of Conference USA were also an 8-4 squad last season, when they were still in the Sun Belt. The Blue Raiders went 2-10 the year before that and have not had back-to-back winning seasons since becoming a FBS program.
This is the first-ever meeting between these two teams.
Balance in yardage was the key for the Blue Raiders on the offensive side of the ball in the win over Western Carolina. Middle Tennessee picked up 475 yards of total offense, a nice jump from the 392.8 it averaged last season. The yardage was fairly evenly split with 270 coming on the ground and 205 through the air.
Jordan Parker was the workhorse out of the backfield for the Blue Raiders. Parker had 22 carries for 156 yards, including a 65-yard touchdown run early on the first play from scrimmage. The 156 yards from Parker were a career- high. William Pratcher added 71 yards and two scores on 10 carries.
With the running game humming along, quarterback Logan Kilgore didn't need to do much more than keep the defense honest with his passing. Kilgore completed 12-of-18 pass attempts for 144 yards and a touchdown before giving way to Austin Grammer after suffering a shoulder injury. Grammer completed 7-of-9 attempts for 61 yards and also scored on a 10-yard touchdown run.
It remains to be seen if Kilgore will be able to start in this contest but if not Grammer certainly showed he is capable of stepping in.
The workload for the Blue Raiders' receivers was spread evenly with nine players grabbing at least one catch and four different players totaling at least 30 yards.
While the offense pounded the ball down the field, the Middle Tennessee defense was extremely opportunistic. The Blue Raiders collected a pair of interceptions and made a number of plays in the Western Carolina backfield. In total the Blue Raiders had nine tackles for loss and three sacks. Middle Tennessee also surrendered 371 yards of total offense and held the Catamounts to 4-of-15 on third down conversions.
Going forward Middle Tennessee will need to continue its strong defensive effort, as the team gave up more than 440 yards of total offense last season.
T.T. Barber was the headliner of the defensive attack as he tied for a game- high with nine tackles, two for loss. Christian Henry also had nine tackles along with a sack.
North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora knew he had a tough task in getting his normally potent offense to get off to a fast start against a tough South Carolina defense led by Heisman contender Jadeveon Clowney. The test proved to be as advertised as the Tar Heels managed just 293 total yards and 3.7 yards per play. Last season the Tar Heels averaged 291.8 yards per game through the air alone.
Bryn Renner, who threw for 3,356 yards last season, complete 26-of-43 pass attempts for 194 yards and a touchdown, while being sacked three times. Renner's lack of consistency in completing passes was uncommon considering he had a career completion percentage of 66.7 entering the year.
Replacing multi-talented running back Giovanni Bernard proved to be a challenge as well. Bernard, who accounted for over 1,700 yards of total offense last season is now in the NFL. Romar Morris and A.J. Blue are the two backs tasked with taking over. Morris had a team-high 69 yards on 15 carries and Blue added 36 yards on eight touches against the Gamecocks.
Though it took him more passes than Fedora may have wanted, Renner still had 26 completions and spread them to 10 different receivers. Quinshad Davis was the top target as he tied for a team-high with four receptions for a team-high 39 yards and a score.
No one accused North Carolina of being a stout defensive squad last season as the Tar Heels posted middle of the road numbers in comparison to the rest of the ACC. Against South Carolina, even with seven returning starters, North Carolina still looked average on the defensive side.
In the losing effort the Tar Heels gave up 406 total yards, including 228 yards on the ground. North Carolina was somewhat successful on third down as the Gamecocks converted on just 5-of-14 attempts.
Leading the Tar Heels on defense was Travis Hughes and Tre Boston. Norkeithus Otis had the best game in terms of rushing the passer as he recorded a sack and two quarterback hits to go with five total tackles. Otis' sack was one of just three tackles for loss by the Tar Heels.
Though both of these teams had very different outcomes in the opening weekend, each team also faced very different competition. With Kilgore's status still up in the air, it will be tough for Middle Tennessee to really prove a challenge to a North Carolina team that should get back on track offensively.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: North Carolina 38, Middle Tennessee 13
09/04 10:44:57 ET
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