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ACC Spotlight: BC vs UNC

By Dave Holcomb
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Dave Holcomb previews Boston College vs North Carolina.

College football programs covet time off to rest players and rigorously strategize for the next opponent. But three weeks between games is not ideal either.

That’s how much time has passed since North Carolina took the field for the season opener against Syracuse. The Tar Heels cruised to a 31-6 victory versus the Orange, but didn’t exactly look sharp in doing so, experiencing the typical first-game jitters. Now, North Carolina will battle more rust Saturday against Boston College, as the Tar Heels eye moving into the Top 10.

Since North Carolina last played, Boston College has won twice — beating Duke in its season opener and then edging Texas State at home last weekend. On paper, the Tar Heels have the opportunity this Saturday to reassert themselves as an ACC elite, but the question is will 2020 once again have other plans.

Because of the way he ended his freshman campaign, North Carolina sophomore quarterback Sam Howell entered the season with as much hype as any ACC quarterback not named Trevor Lawrence. He played very well at times in the opener, going 25 of 34 for 295 yards, but he also threw two interceptions.

North Carolina accumulated 463 yards and scored 31 points. Most teams would love those totals in a game where it is deemed “not 100 percent sharp.” But the Tar Heels also posted three giveaways, committed nine penalties and only went 5 of 13 on third down.

Maybe Mack Brown hammering at those errors for weeks will give the Tar Heels an edge this weekend, but in all likelihood, they aren’t going to be firing on all cylinders 20 days after playing just one game. Like Syracuse, Boston College has been opportunistic this season, forcing six turnovers against two opponents this year.

For that reason, North Carolina must look to depend on its defense this Saturday. The Tar Heels appear much improved on that side of the ball, and it showed versus Syracuse. North Carolina held the Orange to 2.7 yards per play, under two yards per rush and 0 for 3 scoring touchdowns in the red zone.

North Carolina pressured Syracuse all afternoon, recording seven sacks. Senior Chazz Surratt and sophomore Tomari Fox led the way with two each. As the offense takes time to find a rhythm, North Carolina’s easiest path to victory against Boston College appears to be another stout performance from Surratt, Fox and the rest of the Tar Heels defense.

In years past, Boston College would likely enter a game like this planning to play keep away with running back A.J. Dillon, but he’ll be suiting up Monday night for the Green Bay Packers, and the Eagles have yet to truly replace him. Boston College has averaged under 2.5 yards per rush to begin the year, including just 3.2 yards per carry against Texas State.

Combining their first two games’ stats, the Eagles have been outgained, 708-681, and outrushed, 262-171. Boston College’s opponents have posted a 51.61 percent third-down conversion rate as well while the Eagles are converting at about 39 percent on third down.

With those numbers, Boston College’s plus-two turnover margin looms large, and the Eagles have allowed opponents to score only on three of six red zone possessions.

For this reason, it’s key North Carolina’s offense remains patient. It’s unlikely the Eagles lead this matchup in offense, so Howell and the Tar Heels offense avoiding a big mistake will be vital.

North Carolina’s rust could keep this contest close for a while, and nobody would be surprised if 2020 strikes again, but similar to their season opener, the Tar Heels could easily pull away in the fourth quarter.

Prediction: North Carolina 28, Boston College 14