UNC vs Illinois: Keys to Victory


Nov 15, 2014; Chapel Hill, NC, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels defensive tackle Nazair Jones (90) reacts after the game. The Tar Heels defeated the Panthers 40-35 at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Fresh off their first victory of the season, the North Carolina Tar Heels will look to keep the momentum rolling when they host the Illinois Fighting Illini. On paper the Heels are the better squad, but here are the keys to them winning the game on the field.

The Carolina Defense

Over the first two games the UNC defense has been better than advertised, with that being said, they’ll have to be at their best when Illinois comes into Kenan Memorial Stadium. The Fighting Illini posses a high-octane offense and even though the competition hasn’t been the best (Kent State and Western Illinois) 48 points per game is 48 points per game. In this ACC-Big Ten showdown Carolina must make Illinois work for everything. They can’t have silly penalties and on third down, the home team must get off the field more times than not. Should the Tar Heels be successful doing that, It will not only force Illinois to take some chances which could result in mistakes but more importantly it will give more opportunities to their own high-powered offense to do damage. Bottom line, the Carolina D has to remain stout, if it does they likely win this game.


Winning the turnover battle is key to the outcome of most games, but when the offenses are as potent as they are in this game it becomes even more important. The team who has more turnovers really puts their D at a disadvantage, considering this side of the ball is the weakest link on both squads. So giving either offense extra possessions or short fields would be a recipe for disaster. UNC is the favorite but a turnover or two could be the difference in them winning the game or Illinois stealing one on the road. Lack of ball security has already cost the Heels a game, so let’s see if they’ve learned from that hard lesson.

Naz Jones

UNC’s defense has been better in 2015 but they haven’t put a lot of heat on opposing quarterbacks. The guy who can provide some of that heat is rising sophomore defensive tackle Naz Jones. In my opinion he’s the best Tar Heel D-linemen and his ability to create havoc could force the Illini to double team him, which in return should put his teammates in a position to get after the quarterback. The Carolina D has only two sacks in two games, If they can’t put more pressure on the Illinois signal caller Wes Lunt, it could be a long Saturday afternoon. That’s why Jones is so important. He has to be the anchor, Jones has to live on the Illinois side of the line of scrimmage. If he can do that, a UNC victory should be the outcome of this one.

Remain balanced on offense

Through the first couple of games UNC’s offense has been really balanced. They’ve passed the ball well, the running game has been effective and more of the same will be needed Saturday. Quarterback Marquise Williams is a much better player when the offense is less predictable. Matter of fact the entire unit is better when opposing defenses aren’t too sure what’s coming next. If the Heels can win on first down it will keep them out of obvious passing situations, which will make Elijah Hood even more of a threat. If Illinois has to pay extra attention to the running game, Mack Hollins, Quinshad Davis and C0. will have opportunities to make big plays down the field. The UNC offense is a beautiful thing when clicking on all cylinders and if the attack is well-balanced on Saturday, I don’t think Illinois can handle that.