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Two years after the Orange beat the Tar Heels in double overtime in 2018, SU head coach Dino Babers said in a press conference Monday that he had put UNC in the rearview mirror.
But under this fall’s modified schedule, the Orange are now heading to Chapel Hill for its season opener. And they’re doing it as huge underdogs.
To learn more about Mack Brown’s program, The Daily Orange caught up with Ryan Wilcox, who covers UNC football for The Daily Tar Heel. This interview has been edited for brevity.
The Daily Orange: Heading into the 2020 season, what are some of North Carolina’s biggest strengths?
Ryan Wilcox: Quarterback and wide receiver, especially wide receiver depth — they have a bunch of weapons. They have a guy named Dazz Newsome, a guy named Dyami Brown and Beau Corrales are all fast receivers with (good) hands. I think they have a deep defensive back corps with not a lot of necessarily (NFL Draft) prospects, but probably about seven or eight guys you can trust just to rotate in and out. Those are probably their biggest strengths: quarterback, wide receivers, secondary.
The D.O.: Who’s someone on UNC that a casual Syracuse fan might not know, but will after Saturday?
RW: I’ll give you two: their running backs, Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. Carter is a senior now, and he catches a lot of balls out of the backfield. He can be a third down back, but he also takes snaps on first and second down. Williams is fast, too, but he’s built a little bigger and will probably get more touches on the goal line.
The D.O.: How might UNC’s offense match up with Syracuse’s new 3-3-5 defensive scheme?
RW: That’s interesting, because UNC uses a lot of nickel as well. Jay Bateman, their defensive coordinator, he likes to mix it up. His whole thing is versatility and speed. Sounds like Syracuse is doing a similar thing. So I’d say, based on that, Sam Howell’s going to have experience (from practice) with that kind of thing. I think the way to beat UNC is probably to overwhelm their offensive line. They’re kind of thin there. They lost Charlie Heck, who was their best guy on the offensive line — he graduated. I think the way to beat them is to really get after Sam Howell. But I’m really interested to see how they react to that defense.
The D.O.: What’s Sam Howell’s ceiling?
RW: I expect him to follow up his true freshman year with another great year. The thing about covering him, for me, up-close, was how poised he was. His first game, they were down double-digits to South Carolina, first game of the season, and he (threw) two fourth-quarter touchdowns and was basically as poised and controlled as you can be the whole time. And then, after the game, Sam was just as cool as they come. And he was like that for the rest of the season. I don’t think a lot really fazes him, that’s just what I expect from him at this point. It might sound silly for a sophomore to be able to do that, but that’s the sense I’ve gotten from talking to him and being around him last season.
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The D.O.: What has to happen for Syracuse to pull off the upset?
RW: I think the total opposite of what I just said. Howell has to struggle. I don’t know where that really comes from. Again, I think the main thing is getting after him and putting him on the ground. I think, if UNC’s defensive line doesn’t have a great game, that’s probably a recipe for a Syracuse win — if Syracuse gets 150-200 yards on the ground and is just able to control the game from there. The other thing is just the weirdness of no fans. I don’t know how that’s going to play into the psychology of these dudes on the field, but that’ll be interesting to see as well.
The D.O.: Do you think the UNC -22 line is too low, too high, or just right?
RW: Yeah, that seems about right to me. I definitely think UNC has a bunch of weapons. Sam Howell is the guy. He threw 38 touchdowns last year as a true freshman, which is an FBS record, and he’s probably a Heisman candidate this year. He has a bunch of weapons around him, so I trust their offense to come out firing and win by about 22 points.
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