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What Virginia Football fans need to know about #15 North Carolina

north carolinaNorth Carolina has the ACC’s top-rated offense. You’re not surprised to hear that. You’re probably surprised to learn that the UNC defense is ranked fourth in the conference.

And this is in spite of giving up a ton of yards and a ton of points in the 56-45 win over Virginia Tech.

Carolina is third in the ACC in pass-defense efficiency (118.0) and fourth against the run (128.6 yards per game).

The leader is redshirt senior linebacker Chazz Surratt, who boasts a team-best 32 tackles and 22 QB pressures – including four sacks.

Surratt has his faults – a team-high eight missed tackles, and opposing receivers have caught 15 passes on 18 targets against him in coverage, key factors, no doubt, in his noticeably low Pro Football Focus season grade of 43.7.

The top-graded regular is another redshirt senior linebacker, Tyrone Hopper (PFF: 62.7) – who has 13 tackles and 16 QB pressures, including one sack.

Also be mindful of senior edge linebacker Tomon Fox (PFF grade: 62.5) – who has 19 tackles and 17 QB pressures, including a team-best five sacks.

The best coverage guys are junior DB Trey Morrison (PFF grade: 54.3, opposing QBs 16-of-27 on targets), sophomore DB Kyler McMichael (PFF grade: 52.4, opposing QBs 9-of-19 on targets).

They really miss not having sophomore DB Storm Duck (PFF grade: 75.0, opposing QBs 4-of-13 on targets), who has missed the past three games to injury.

All that said, this is a much better defensive unit than we saw out of this team in 2019.

The offense is what you know about Carolina. Sophomore quarterback Sam Howell is putting up big numbers again (1,403 yards, 64.2% completion rate, 10 TDs/4 INTs, 160.7 QB rating, 86.5 PFF grade), and the running back tandem of Michael Carter (116.8 yards/g, 7.9 yards/carry, 84.9 PFF grade) and Javonte Williams (112.4 yards/g, 6.9 yards/carry, 10 TDs, 92.5 PFF grade) is just unfair.

Pick your poison among the wideouts and tight ends, too – 6’1” junior Dyami Brown (PFF grade: 69.9) has a team-best 24 catches and averages 16.7 yards per catch, and then there’s 6’3” senior Beau Corrales (PFF grade: 71.2), who averages 18.3 yards per catch, and 5’11” senior Dazz Newsome (PFF grade: 62.9), who will remind UVA fans of Joe Reed with his speed and shiftiness out of the slot.

UNC also uses Williams (9 catches, 200 yards) and Carter (12 catches, 132 yards) as targets out of the backfield, so look for them to try to create matchup mismatches with ‘backers and safeties.

The special teams are … pretty good. The punter, sophomore Ben Kiernan (PFF grade: 69.3), averages 40.8 yards per kick, with an average hangtime of 3.93 seconds, and just three returns on his 15 punts.

The kickoff specialist is sophomore Jonathan Kim (PFF grade: 84.1), who has 31 touchbacks on his 33 kickoffs so far in 2020.

Placekicker is the weak spot – redshirt senior Grayson Atkins (PFF grade: 64.0) is just 4-of-8 on field-goal tries in 2020, with a long of 40, and he’s just 1-of-4 from 40+.

Returns are handled by Newsome (eight punt returns, 12.5-yard average; one punt return for 19 yards) and Carter (four kick returns, 21.5-yard average).

The numbers don’t suggest it, but just because of who the guys are, there’s game-breaking potential there.

Story by Chris Graham