Jeff Dantzler and Murray Poole roll up their sleeves and delve into North Carolina’s depth chart to give you some Tarheels you should keep an eye for on Saturday.
LARRY FEDORA (HEAD COACH)
Needless to say, Georgia’s defense will be put under the gun in Saturday’s season opener against North Carolina in the Georgia Dome. That’s because every team that Tar Heels head coach Larry Fedora has mentored has fielded potent offensive attacks. Fedora, who has won 32 games in his first four seasons in Chapel Hill, was one of the first coaches in the country to implement the spread offense, a style now employed in a majority of major programs. Fedora was quick to brand his style of play as “smart, fast and physical,” a mantra he’s preached since he first became a head coach at Southern Miss in 2008. That style has paid dividends for UNC, which has averaged more than 425 yards of total offense per game under his watch and averaged more than 40 points in 2015 when the Tar Heels went 11-3 overall and a perfect 8-0 in winning the ACC Coastal Division crown. In fact, Fedora has coached the two most prolific offenses in UNC history. The 2015 team set school marks for most points (570), points per game (40.7) and touchdowns (73). The previous highs of 487 points and 62 touchdowns were set in 2012, Fedora’s first season at UNC. Mel Tucker’s Georgia defense … are you ready for this?
MITCH TRUBISKY (QB, #10)
A highly touted prospect out of Ohio who was at the top of Urban Meyer’s Buckeye wish list, this longtime Tar Heel fan takes the reigns now at North Carolina. As Marquise Williams backup a year ago, Trubisky was sensational, completing 40 of 47 passes (that is not a typo, and that completion percentage is a rather hefty 85.1!!!) for 555 yards with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Twice Trubisky came in for a play after Williams helmet came off, and he responded with touchdown passes against N.C. State and Miami. A dual threat, Trubisky carried 16 times for 101 yards (a 6.3 average) and three touchdowns. The Heels also have a nice set of receivers for Trubisky to choose from.
ELIJAH HOOD (TB, #34)
Georgia and Southern Cal have gone back and forth as to the claim for Tailback U. But North Carolina has its own rich tradition of runners, with 27 different 1,000 yard rushing seasons by the likes of Amos Lawrence, Kelvin Bryant, Ethan Horton, Curtis and Leon Johnson, and Giovanni Bernard. Elijah Hood is the next in line. Last season, the All-ACC standout and All-American candidate carried 218 times for 1,463 yards — a 6.7 clip — and 17 touchdowns. He and Williams were one of the top tailback/quarterback duos in college football last season, and Hood and Trubisky have that potential in 2016. Hood has the power and the ability to break the long run. A Georgia defense that has excellent promise, but must replace six starters on the front seven will be put to a severe test straight out of the gates.
CORNERBACK DUO of DES LAWRENCE (#2), M.J. STEWART (#6)
North Carolina was 95th nationally in total defense in 2015 but the Tar Heels’ troubles on that side of the ball wasn’t the fault of the Carolina secondary, which ranked 18th nationally in passing yards allowed per game. And that top-20 ranking was strongly due to UNC’s two lockdown corners, M.J. Stewart and Des Lawrence. It’s certainly not a reach to say Lawrence and Stewart may be the top cornerback tandem in the country this coming season. In 2015 Lawrence (6-1, 185, Sr.) had 59 tackles, two interceptions, and 14 pass breakups while allowing zero touchdowns. At ACC Media Days this summer Lawrence was named preseason first-team All-ACC but despite earning this honor, it can be argued that Lawrence may not even be UNC’s best cornerback, due to Stewart’s productivity last year. Stewart (5-11, 200, Jr.) put up even better numbers than his preseason all-conference teammate. He posted 62 tackles, four interceptions and 14 pass breakups while allowing one lone touchdown. So whomever is on the field at quarterback for Georgia Saturday had best be aware of these two guys’ presence, at all times.
RYAN SWITZER (WR, KR, #3)
This guy is only 5-foot-10, 185 pounds but he plays BIG, as the Georgia Bulldogs could well discover come Saturday night in the Georgia Dome. How big? Well, Ryan Switzer pulled in 55 passes, for 697 yards and six touchdowns in his junior season with North Carolina and is primed for an even bigger campaign in this, his senior season in Chapel Hill. But not only has Switzer emerged as a consistent threat in the passing game over the last two seasons, he is also a two-time All- America return man, one of the most electrifying players in college football with his ability to return punts and make defenders miss. Switzer tied the NCAA record with five punt return touchdowns in 2013, added two more in 2015, and is one shy of the career mark of eight held by Texas Tech’s Wes Welker and Oklahoma’s Antonio Perkins. He already owns the school record for career punt return yards. Truly, a most dangerous guy in blue and white.