UNC Football Game Preview: San Diego State


The North Carolina Tar Heels football season kicks off on August 30th against the Liberty Flames at home in Kenan Stadium. To get you ready for the nationally ranked Tar Heel’s first game, Keeping It Heel will have an extensive football preview series previewing all of Carolina’s positions, games and reviewing 2013′s games. Check back to Keeping It Heel every afternoon for new preview posts. Today, let’s preview UNC Football’s second game against San Diego State.


North Carolina has an opportunity to make an ACC championship run in 2014.  They have all the right pieces:  talent, experience, momentum, and a difficult schedule in the latter half of the season to prove their worth.  Games that could make or break their season include opponents like Georgia Tech, Miami, Duke, and of course, North Carolina State.

But what about the teams that can only break the Tar Heels’ season?  While it’s understandable that the team’s focus is on its higher-ranked opponents, San Diego State should not be overlooked.

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Saturday, September 6, the Tar Heels will need to be awake for their second game of the season.  The Aztecs finished the 2013 season at 8-5, going 6-2 within their conference.

Going off of talent and quality wins in 2013, the Tar Heels should come away with a convincing win.  Of course, if football were played on paper, Alabama might not have lost once in the past five years.  Although North Carolina has been good at taking care of business against significantly less talented teams under head coach Larry Fedora, the San Diego State offense offers matchup problems against a vulnerable North Carolina defense.

The Tar Heels have consistently struggled against balanced offenses.  Even in their strong finish to the 2013 season where the Heels went 6-1, they were outscoring their opponents – and they needed to.  The Heels had statistically the worst run defense in the ACC last year, and their secondary conceded too many explosive plays.

Although San Diego State lost their leading rusher in Adam Muema*, Donnel Pumphrey is a worthy replacement, as the rising sophomore finished 2013 with 752 yards on only 125 carries, and 8 touchdowns.

In addition, Quinn Kaehler, San Diego State quarterback, is a solid passer with an accurate deep ball.  He finished last season with 3,007 yards and 19 touchdowns, averaging about 13 yards per completion.

North Carolina’s keys to victory are centered on stopping the balanced San Diego State offense.

First, the Heels need to make the Aztecs one dimensional.  Whether that is blitzing early and often to keep Kaehler off-rhythm, or consistently having 7-8 men in the box to slow down Pumphrey, they cannot let the Aztecs be confident through the air and on the ground.

Second, the Heels need to keep their defense off of the field by sustaining drives.  North Carolina has the talent to put points on the board, but in order to avoid having to outscore the Aztecs, in which case it would be anyone’s game, the Heels need to be able to run the ball.  North Carolina will have an improved rushing attack, returning both rising sophomore running back, TJ Logan, and 2013 leading rusher for the Heels, QB Marquise Williams.  North Carolina’s ground game will become more efficient because of their return, and will therefore assist in increasing the team’s time of possession and overall productivity.

Third, the Heels need to cause turnovers.  Quinn Kaehler has the ability to be very dangerous, both for opponents and for his team.  Kaehler threw an interception for every 25 completions in 2013 (9-232 total), and although that’s not terrible, it can be considered too many based on his role on the team.  Forcing interceptions would play to the first two keys as it would keep the defense off the field and force the Aztecs to lose confidence in their passing attack, and become one dimensional.

North Carolina will do what has to be done to beat San Diego State, and go into week three undefeated on the season.

If all turns out as it should, the Tar Heels will begin their stretch of “make or break” games unbroken.

*Editor’s note: Check out this ESPN Feature on Adam Muema; its a must read for all college football fans.