Countdown to Kickoff: Old Dominion

Martin

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – North Carolina will look to extend its winning streak to five games and secure bowl eligibility with a victory over first-year FBS opponent Old Dominion at Kenan Stadium on Saturday (12pm/RSN).

The Tar Heels (5-5, 4-3 ACC) are favored by 17 points over the Monarchs (8-3), who will join Conference USA in 2014 after playing this season as an independent. This will be the first ever meeting between these programs separated by less than 200 miles.

Old Dominion's success has come on the arm of sophomore quarterback Taylor Heinicke (326-of-455 passing, 3,892 yards, 32 TD, 8 INT), who has completed 40 or more passes to four different wide receivers. The Monarchs are averaging 44.4 points and 532.5 yards per game.

ODU head coach Bobby Wilder's offense is built similar to East Carolina's pass-happy, rapid-fire approach, designed to spread the field and get rid of the ball before pressure arrives. The Monarchs have only allowed 20 sacks this season, although in their three losses to ECU, Pittsburgh and Maryland, the sack count stands at eight.

The Tar Heels struggled early in the season to get consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks (10 sacks in first 6 games), but have totaled 15 sacks over their past four games. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin has been particularly disruptive up front with nine sacks (6.5 in last 4 games) 16.0 tackles for loss.

"It's going to be very, very critical that we are able to get some pressure on the quarterback and try to harass him and try to get him to make some throws early, and then we are going to have to hold up in the back end, too," UNC head coach Larry Fedora said. "We don't want to cover those guys for a long time, because if he gets a set back there, he's going to pick you apart."

While UNC's defense will have its hands full, its offense will look to get back on track after managing just 322 total yards of offense, including 107 in the second half, against Pittsburgh last Saturday. Quarterback Marquise Williams (70-of-121 passing, 895 yards, 8 TD, 4 INT; 326 rushing yards, 4 TD) has been solid since replacing injured Bryn Renner in the starting lineup despite last week's challenges.

The Panthers defense, led by All American candidate Aaron Donald, took advantage of injuries along UNC's offensive line – true freshman Lucas Crowley started at center – to prevent much of any rhythm from occurring for the Tar Heels.

"I have to be more effective," Williams said this week. "I can't come out strong in the first half and just be sloppy in the second half. I'm going to come out this Saturday for all four quarters and finish the game strong."

Old Dominion's defense should represent a quality opportunity for Williams and his offense to get back on track. The Monarchs are allowing 29.8 points and 427.7 yards per game this fall.

Oddsmakers are expecting a scoreboard blitzkrieg at Kenan Stadium as the over/under total – which represents the total amount of points scored – is set at an astronomical 77. For reference purposes, there have only been 11 games with over/under totals equaling 80 points or more since 1985.

While the Tar Heels are focused on cementing their postseason livelihood, the Monarchs' trip to Kenan Stadium will serve as a quasi-bowl game in which Wilder intends to roll the dice.

"We will definitely give some thought to adjusting some things we do in all three phases," Wilder said. "We have to. If we just roll out the ball and play Saturday, it's probably not going to work. They're clearly better than we are going into this matchup. We're going to have do everything right, and then we're going to have to hope that we get a little bit of help from the football gods."

A victory would give UNC its longest winning streak since 2001, when the John Bunting-led Tar Heels reeled off five in a row after starting 0-3.

 

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