College Football Pick
North Carolina opened Week 1 with a 33-24 loss to then-ranked No. 18 Georgia. At one point, the Tar Heels seemed destined for a win in the opener. They led the Bulldogs 24-14 with 6:34 left in the third quarter but were outscored 19-0 the rest of the way. North Carolina will hope to have a similar turnaround as the one they saw in 2015 when they lost to South Carolina in Game 1 but went on to win 11 straight and the Coastal Division.
There were some confusing factors playing into the North Carolina loss to Georgia. Mitch Trubisky was largely ineffective in completing 24-of-40 passes for only 156 yards. By contrast, the Tar Heel rushing attack was very good, but LArry Fedora opted not to use it for much of the Game. Elijah Hood ran the ball 10 times for 72 yards. T.J. Logan added 80 yards and a touchdown on only six attempts. Hood and Logan ran for 7.2 and 13.3 yards per attempt, respectively.
Fedora never had the impact of down-field passing attack affect the flow of the Game. North Carolina returns a lot of important receivers from last year, but none of them had a big impact catching the ball on Saturday. Ryan Switzer led the way with seven receptions but only had 52 yards. Bug Howard was held to two receptions for 15 yards, and MACk Hollins just caught one pass for six yards.
Illinois started things on the right note, beating Murray State 52-3, in Lovie Smith’s first Game as head coach. Smith, known as a defensive coach, had to be proud of the way the Illini handled things defensively against Murray State. The Racers ran the ball 26 times for -10 (minus-10) yards. Murray State ended the Game with only 165 yards of total offense.
On offense, Wes LUnt completed 15-of-21 passes for 226 yards and three scores. LUnt found Malik Turner three times for 83 yards and a pair of touchdowns. LUnt has proven at times to be a solid quarterback, but he’s looking to display more consistency as a senior in Champaign.
Illinois’ ground Game was dominant. But, that should add a level of skepticism to their expectations going forward. Kendrick Foster ran the ball for 118 yards and two scores on only Four carries. Reggie Corbin also ran for over 10 yards per carry, with seven carries, 71 yards and a touchdown.
Prediction: A lot of North Carolina’s success or failure this season will likely depend upon Fedora’s willingness or refusal to run the ball. Hood is one of the best backs in the ACC. Logan provides a nice change of pace. Sure, there are good weapons at wide receiver, and they will have some exceptional Games this year. But it’s hard to ignore how the running Game was ignored versus Georgia with the amount of success it was having.
Smith is an excellent football coach and has the ability to bring Illinois out of the bottom of the Big Ten, but I’m not sure this is the week that is going to start being shown. North Carolina doesn’t have the best defense out there, so don’t be surprised if Illinois scores some points. But the Tar Heels should be able to move the ball with all the weapons they have. Trubisky should bounce back with a better performance. North Carolina -9 UNC 38, Illinois 24