UNC: Run game key in BC showdown
North Carolina has struggled to run the ball and to stop the run this season, two big reasons why the Tar Heels (1-5, 0-3) have the worst record in the ACC. Their ability to do both will be instrumental in breaking a four-game losing streak today against Boston College (3:30 p.m., Fox Sports Carolinas).
The Eagles (3-3, 1-2) feature Andre Williams, who is averaging 5.3 yards a carry and is fifth in the nation in rushing yards per game (139.7).
“We’ve gotta really stop the run. That’s going to be the key to our defensive effort,” UNC coach Larry Fedora said. “Now, I don’t expect us to shut them out, but we have to put them in some long-yardage situations and make them throw the football.”
Miami gained 234 yards on the ground last week against UNC’s 101st-ranked rushing defense despite losing standout Duke Johnson in the first quarter.
Associate coach for defense Vic Koenning, formerly the defensive coordinator at Illinois, said Boston College reminds him of Wisconsin in that the Eagles send three blockers to the point of attack and try to outnumber the defense. He also counted more than 100 different ways that BC’s offense lines up — and that was before the Eagles had time during the bye week to institute more looks.
“They are a physical football team, and they are bringing the ball downhill,” Fedora said. “(They use) a lot of different formations, a lot of different shifts, a lot of different motions to create problems for your defense, to get you out of a gap, misaligned, have miscommunication, all those things. And then the running back is pretty special, obviously.”
On the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels will give freshman T.J. Logan his second start as they attempt to jump start the nation’s 114th-ranked rushing offense. UNC has used four different running backs this year, including three starters, but hasn’t seen any of them gain more than 69 yards in a game. The Tar Heels’ longest run has been 26 yards — a number they surpassed 12 times last season.
“(Logan) did a great job stepping up in protection, he made some guys miss, he shows a little bit of a burst that we weren’t having,” offensive coordinator Blake Anderson said. “I think it’s still up in the air, but at this point in time, he seems to give us the best chance to win and give us the most explosive-type player.”
A Greensboro native, Logan came in with high expectations after rushing for 510 yards in the 3-AA state title game, but suffered a knee sprain in camp and missed the first four games.
Though he estimated he’s still just 95 percent, Logan earned the start against Miami and was used as a 1-2 punch along with physical runner A.J. Blue.
Besides Logan’s emergence, BC coach Steve Addazio thought that UNC’s experience playing top competition will help its running game Saturday. The Tar Heels have played against three AP top 20 teams — No. 7 Miami, No. 16 Virginia Tech and No. 20 South Carolina.
“I know they’ve played a lot of very, very talented teams and talented defenses,” Addazio said. “When you play those games, that can come back to you later in a positive way.”
The Eagles have also played No. 3 Florida State and No. 9 Clemson, and their third loss was at Southern Cal. But BC has evened its record with wins against Wake Forest, Army and Villanova. The Tar Heels’ lone win was Sept. 7 against Middle Tennessee.
“We all need something good to happen,” Fedora said. “How bad? Whatever that ranking is, if it’s (out of) 100, we need 110.
“But you can’t just sit around and hope that something’s going to happen, you have to prepare, keep believing in each other, and then make it happen.”
NOTES — The teams are meeting for the first time since 2009, and for the first time at UNC since 2008. BC is 0-3 all-time in Chapel Hill and 0-3 against the Tar Heels since joining the ACC. … The Eagles lead the ACC in fewest penalties, with 22. UNC has committed 45. … UNC’s 1963 Gator Bowl team will be recognized during today’s game. … The newest members of the NCSHAA Hall of Fame, including East Chapel Hill High tennis coach Lindsey Linker, will be honored at halftime.