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November 13, 2013

UNC-Pitt Capsule

Football Preview

UNC is making a trip north for a suddenly important ACC showdown between the Tar Heels and the Pittsburgh Panthers. The Panthers, along with Syracuse and soon to be Louisville, are a part of the ACC's expansion into the Northeast.

This is a chance for UNC to gain some traction in an area that may not be as familiar with the Tar Heels. Winning games in a talent rich state like Pennsylvania can only help a school like UNC, which is clearly trying to become a more national brand under coach Larry Fedora.

Changing uniforms, playing at a fast pace and winning games outside of the normal recruiting territories go a long way towards attracting the kind of talent that helps build a yearly conference contender.

Along with opening new doors, here are some other storylines to watch heading into Saturday's game.

Rushing Attack

UNC's once stagnant running attack has increased its rushing totals in each game for the past six contests. After bursting out for 201 yards in the win over Virginia, the Tar Heels are now averaging 154 yards rushing per game over their three-game winning streak.

Clearly, pounding the rock has allowed UNC to unleash other elements of their offense. The key component, however, has been Marquise Williams ability to extend plays and break off decent chunks of yardage on designed runs.

Williams is UNC's third leading rusher with 247 yards on the year. He's their second leading carrier with 67 carries and it stands to reason he might lead UNC in both those categories if he wasn't heading into just his third game as a starter.

In short, Williams is the most consistent rushing threat UNC has right now. He's being asked to carry a large portion of the offense (he's even caught a touchdown pass now) and that's something that needs to be monitored as the season goes along. His backup, Kanler Coker, took his first snaps of the year last week and while I'm sure he's a nice guy, isn't the man UNC fans want to see under center if Williams breaks down against a defense looking to take him out.

The stable of running backs that line up beside him need to find their rhythm this week and in the colder weeks ahead as the games become more physical and teams begin fighting for every yard on their way to postseason bowl games.

Aaron Donald

Pittsburgh's defensive terror Aaron Donald has been a one-man wrecking crew this season.

He's already racked up 9 sacks, made 19.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage and has forced three fumbles this season.

UNC's offensive line has made improvements over the past several weeks, especially considering where they were at near the beginning of the year, but this still has to be an area of concern for Fedora.

"The guy is all over the place. Paul (Chryst) and his staff have done a great job with him. They'll have him lined up at the left tackle. He's played at right tackle. He's played at the right end, left end. They move him all over the place," said Fedora during his weekly press conference. "They put him in position to make plays. And the guy comes through. For a big guy like that he's quick as a cat now. He can move.

He's like a skilled athlete but in a big body. And he's just got a knack and he plays hard. What a great player."

Fedora also compared Donald to another superstar defensive lineman North Carolina saw earlier in the year---Jadeveon Clowney.

"Yeah, it really is. The only difference is he usually starts out on the inside and then moves outside. But they still move him around quite a bit," said Fedora. "And I do, I think he's that same kind of player. He has that same kind of impact on a game."

This will be a big test for the youngsters on the offensive line to see just how far they've come and how far they'll be able to take this team in the future.

North Carolina


ACC Standings
Game Day
Line: Pittsbugh by 1
Date: Saturday, November 16
Time: 12:30 pm
Stadium: Heinz Field (65,050)

TV: ACC Network (Click Link To Watch Online)
(S 132,XM 203)
Weather: Pittsburg Forecast
Series: North Carolina leads the all-time series with Pittsburgh, 4-3
Last Meeting: Pittsburgh won the last meeting with UNC, 19-17, in 2009.

Pittsburgh at a glance
Location: Pittsburgh, Pa.
Nickname: Panthers
Colors: Blue & Gold
Stadium: Heinz Field (65,050)
Surface: Natural Grass
Conference: ACC
2012 Record: 6-7 (3-4)
Head Coach: Paul Chryst
(11-11 at Pitt, 11-11 overall)
Last Game: Pitt beat #23 Notre Dame, 28-21, at Heinz Field on November 9.

Official Site | Rivals Site
Roster | Schedule | Stats

Pittsburgh Leaders
Passing: Tom Savage
(155-254, 2022 yds, 16 TD)

Rushing: Isaac Bennett
(122 carries, 601 yds, 4.9 avg, 5 TD)

Receiving: Devin Street
(44 rec, 766 yds, 17.4 avg, 6 TD)

Pittsburgh Rankings
Passing: 225.6 YPG (69th)
Rushing: 121.4 YPG (106th)
Point For: 26.3 PPG (81st)
Points Against: 26.1 PPG (63rd)

North Carolina Leaders
Passing: Marquise Williams
(55-94, 722 yds, 8 TD)
Rushing: AJ Blue
(73 carries, 292 yds, 4.0 avg, 1 TD)
Receiving: Eric Ebron
(46 rec, 690 yds, 15.0 avg, 3 TD)

North Carolina Rankings
Passing: 292.2 YPG (21st)
Rushing: 118.7 YPG (109th)
Point For: 27.4 PPG (77th)
Points Against: 25.2 PPG (55th)

Staying The Course

When a team goes through the type of difficult stretch that UNC went through when they were 1-5 to begin the year, it can make everyone affiliated with the team panic.

Fedora and his staff have always had a strong belief in the types of players they have in this locker room and it's been evident over the past couple weeks that the players and coaches haven't given up on this season or their ability to do something special with it.

If you've been paying attention, you've no doubt heard that UNC wants to go "1-0" every week and aren't thinking ahead to anything in the future.

That remained evident Wednesday when Fedora addressed the media.

Well, first of all, we have a very sound philosophy. As a coaching staff and as a team. So when things aren't going well, what you do is you don't just make changes," said Fedora. "That's what everybody on the outside wants is you need to do this, you need to do that. And all we did was stay the course. We kept doing the same things. We kept the kids believing.

One of the biggest areas of improvement has been the defense. They've put themselves in positions to win games and have seen guys like Kareem Martin and Dominique Green have a meaningful impact on the outcomes.

Fedora also credited his staff and commended them for keeping everyone focused on the task at hand.

"Our staff did a great job of keeping these kids believing in each other and what was going on and what we were doing," said Fedora. "And if you keep doing that and the kids see, from the leadership, with the staff and the team leaders, that we're doing the right things, we've just got to make more plays, eventually the light comes on and it starts happening. So then you're able to say, hey, you see, you see what we're talking about and they realize that and your team gets stronger and stronger from that point."


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