Wednesday, August 1, 2018

2018 Football Preseason Preview: North Carolina

Throughout this preseason, Purple & Gold has previewed all of Western Carolina's 2018 football opponents.  Here's our final preseason preview.

In the Cat's eleventh and final regular season game of the season, Western Carolina travels to Chapel Hill for the second meeting with the Tar Heels in two years.

The Cats dropped last season's game to the Tar Heels in a 65-10 setback for the short-handed Catamounts.  

UNC at Chapel Hill

: Saturday, November 17 (Time - TBA)
Where: Kenan Stadium (63,000) - Natural Grass -  Chapel Hill, NC
Radio: Catamount Sports Network
TV / Video: TBA

The Series: Second meeting on the football field between these two UNC sister schools, the Cats dropped last season's game to the Tar Heels in a 65-10 setback for the short-handed Catamounts.

Games that the Heels will play this season prior to the WCU contest:  The Tar Heels will kick off the season with two road games, first at California, then returning to Greenville, NC to face the Pirates. The Heels then return home for two games, opening with UCF, followed by Pitt then next weekend.  For the fifth game of the season, UNC travels to face Miami, followed by a game in Chapel Hill against Virginia Tech.  Then two more road games, at Syracuse and at Virginia respectively.  Back in Chapel Hill, the Heels will face Georgia Tech, followed by Duke, prior to the Western Carolina visit.

The last game played vs. UNC:  Nov. 17, 2017 - Catamount Football Drops Season Finale at North Carolina, 65-10 - Chapel Hill, N.C. - Western Carolina senior tailback Detrez Newsome rushed for 107 yards on Saturday afternoon, eclipsing the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season to cap his career in Cullowhee. However, it was one of the few bright spots in a disappointing finish for the short-handed Catamounts. North Carolina (3-8) erupted for 35 points in a decisive second quarter, breaking open a 7-7 game as a part of scoring 65-straight in handing Western Carolina (7-5) a 65-10 setback on Saturday afternoon at Kenan Stadium. Newsome accounted for 155 all-purpose yards, adding a team-best seven catches for 48 yards receiving to lead the Catamount offensive attack. Tyrie Adams, who played just the first half on Saturday, finished 8-for-18 for 69 yards and WCU's lone touchdown, completing a one-yard, play-action TD pass to Connell Young that capped a 61-yard drive and gave Western Carolina an early, 7-0, lead. Redshirt freshman QB Ray Smith saw his most extensive action of the year, completing 8-of-15 passes for 84 yards as the Catamounts threw for 153 through the air.

Head Coach:  Larry Fedora - North Carolina head coach Larry Fedora, who is entering his seventh season at UNC, has built a program in Chapel Hill that provides his student-athletes the chance to excel on the gridiron, in the classroom and in the community. Over the last five seasons, the Tar Heels have set records in bunches, electrified fans with their special teams play, produced numerous professional prospects and finished first in the Coastal Division on two occasions. Fedora, who already ranks fifth all-time at UNC with 40 victories, signed a new contract extension in May 2017 to keep him in Chapel Hill through the 2022 season.

Last season's Record (Tar Heels):  3-9 overall, 1-6 home, 2-3 away, 1-7 ACC - The Tar Heels  wins came over WCU, Old Dominion, and Pitt.

Starters Returning/Lost: 15 /  12
Offensive starters - Returning/Lost: 5  /  6
Defensive starters - Returning/Lost: 7  /  4
Specialist - Returning/Lost:  3   /   2
Lost from 2-Deep roster:   18

The Tar Heels are loaded with talent at the skill positions, but question marks remain on the front line with the loss of four full-time starters and after the line allowed 30 sacks last year. Improvement on offense won't be enough to avoid a repeat of last year. The defense surrendered 31.3 points per game, and while Fedora has recruited well, improvement should be noticeable, but a return to the postseason might be at least a year away.

Key Offensive losses: Quarterback  - Brandon Harris; Left Tackle  - Bentley Spain; Left Guard  - Khaliel Rodgers; Center  - Cam Dillard; Right Guard  - R.J. Prince; Wide Receiver  - Austin Proehl; Wide Receiver  - Jordan Cunningham

Key Defensive losses: Linebacker  - Hunter Crafford; Linebacker  - Cayson Collins; Cornerback  - M.J. Stewart; Nickelback 6 - M.J. Stewart

Top returnees: WR Anthony Ratliff-Williams, QB Chazz Surratt, QB Nathan Elliot, RB Jordon Brown, RB Michael Carter, TE Brandon Fritts, LB Cole Holcomb, DB K.J. Sails, DE Malik Carney, DT Aaron Crawford, DE Tomon Fox, DE Jalen Dalton, DB Myles Dorn.

Strengths: Redshirt sophomore Chazz Surratt and junior Nathan Elliot will continue their battle for the starting quarterback position. Surratt played in seven games in 2017, completing 58.5 percent of his passes with eight touchdowns and three interceptions. UNC lost six of seven games he started. As for Elliott, he helped UNC win two of the final three games last season, completing 51.4 percent of his passes with 10 touchdowns and five interceptions.  North Carolina junior running back Antonio Williams will be eligible to play this fall. The New London, North Carolina, native has two years of eligibility remaining after spending two seasons at Ohio State. North Carolina junior Anthony Ratliff-Williams was named to the All-ACC Preseason Football Team as a specialist. Ratliff-Williams had a breakout season a year ago in his first season as an offensive starter. He led the Tar Heels in receptions (35), receiving yards (630) and receiving touchdowns (6). He also established himself as one of the best kick returners in college football with a pair of kick return touchdowns and 895 return yards, second-most nationally.

Weaknesses: The UNC’s defense lost its leader in linebacker Andre Smith, while the offensive line will have to gel with many new pieces in the mix.

2018 UNC Statistics:
Rushing Offense: 2128 yards
Yards per game: 144
Yards per rush: 4.1 yards
Rushing 1st downs: 89
TDs rushing: 17
Passing Offense: 2704 yards or 225 yards per game
Avg. per pass: 5.3 yards
Passing 1st downs: 129
Passing Comp-Att-Int: 407-221-16
TDs Passing: 41
Total Offense: 4435 yards or 370 yards per game
Fumbles-Lost: 14 - 6
3d Down Conversions: 31%
4th Down Conversions: 62%
Field goal attempts: 9-14
PAT-Attempts: 51 of 52 (98%)
On-side kicks: 0-3
Red Zone Scores: 31 of 37
Red Zone Touchdowns: 26 of 37
Punts - Yards: 72 - 3183

Game prediction: Per the Massey Ratings, the Cats have a 2% probability of winning (16-44) over the Terriers.

According to Massey, Western Carolina should be 6-5 after this game. I'm going to disagree, the Cats are 9-2 after this loss.

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