UNC Has the Tools to Cover vs Shaky Louisville

Rainman M.

Saturday, September 9, 2017 1:52 PM UTC

Saturday, Sep. 9, 2017 1:52 PM UTC

UNC and Louisville open up ACC Conference Play today at 12:00 ET. Louisville opened as 6.5 point favorites. But that number has since climbed up to 10. The total opened at 61.5 and has only moved up 1.5 points despite over 80% of the tickets being wagered on the over.

Louisville Cardinals vs North Carolina Tar Heels

Reigning Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson is the face of Louisville. He was the Cardinals' only highlight in an otherwise ugly 35-28 win last week against lowly Purdue.  Rushing and passing, he combined for nearly 500 yards. With a combined, 67 passes and rushes, Jackson was literally almost his team's entire offense. 

Lamar Jackson was able to beat Purdue. But he will need some help in order for Louisville to win.  For all the flash from Jackson, and the fact that they ultimately won (but definitely failed to cover--for the 5th game in a row), Louisville continued to show a lot of the problems that plagued them last season, where they fizzled out, losing their last three games.

Their first issue continues to be discipline. Louisville has to cut down on turnovers and penalties. Last week, they committed 16 penalties for 110 yards and turned it over three times. These numbers reek of last year, where they failed to finish in the top 100 in terms of turnover margin and penalties allowed.

Their second issue is protection. They didn't give up any sacks against Purdue. But that's Purdue. Purdue doesn't have talent at the end position. But UNC does in the form of Malik Carney. The rising Junior was UNC's sack leader last season.  With his explosion off the edge, he also excelled at achieving tackles for loss and forced fumbles.  UNC's interior line also boasts three players who played in every game last season. UNC's line has adequate depth and its level of talent is respectable. It does have work to do particularly on third-downs and in general applying pressure to the quarterback. But, it presents a much stronger obstacle than Purdue's line and will, therefore, continue to create difficulties for Louisville's offensive line that led the ACC last season in sacks allowed.

The third issue is a supporting crew for Jackson. Will Colin Wilson, the most hyped recruit for Louisville, play and make an immediate impact on the run game? Will Louisville's receivers do a better job of getting open when Jackson's poor protection constrains him to move out of the pocket? Will Jackson have the confidence in his teammates that he didn't show last week? Will he be able to achieve a cover basically by himself?

UNC had its own questions going into the season and made progress answering those questions in a disappointing Week 1 loss to a rebuilding Cal team.

The first question was at quarterback.  Graduate transfer Brandon Harris started against Cal. He showed that he had the arm to go downfield but lacked the accuracy. His poor performance (7/16 60 yards 2 interceptions) justified his replacement by true freshman Chazz Surratt.  He didn't display a mind-blowing performance. But he didn't turn the ball over. He moved the ball down the field--in fact, both with his arm and with his legs-- and gave his team a good chance to win.

Louisville will come at the true freshman with a lot of pressure--a lot more than Surratt saw against Cal. But in this sense it's kind of a good thing that he doesn't like to take his time in the pocket and go deep. Surratt did well last week with short and medium passes and by taking off on the ground. He will need to keep making good decisions in the short passing game to avoid the mistakes into which Louisville's blitzing defenders will want to force him. As long as Surratt doesn't try to do too much through the air, he should be just fine.

Surratt will get plenty of help from a very solid offensive line that is filled with depth and talent. This line dealt with a lot of injuries last season. But everybody is healthy now. The bigger questions had been posed to the running back position, which arose due to offseason departures. Michael Carter is a true freshman. He has a bright future as an explosive and high-speed athlete who is capable of racking up all-purpose yards both running inside and outside the tackles and receiving. In his first game against Cal, he ran for 94 yards and 2 touchdowns on 11 carries. He was able to exploit Cal's tendency to apply pressure, by being able to elude it and then exploit the opponent's vulnerability down the field.

Louisville's defense will definitely pose more of a challenge to UNC's rushing attack. They will miss their most important defensive lineman in DeAngelo Brown. But, between three senior tackles and two talented edge rushers, they are capable of being disruptive. The talent is there, but the question is whether the Cardinals' new defensive coordinator from Mississippi State can make his squad as fearsome against the run as their predecessor did.

The rush defense is Louisville's greatest hope on defense. They will want to make UNC one-dimensional on offense and so really challenge Suratt. The obstacles that Surratt face won't come from the secondary though. Louisville's secondary last season was generally unable to boast consistent starters. Moreover, their preseason All-American corner, Jaire Alexander, will miss today's game due to injury. The secondary's unreliability will likely force Louisville to blitz less than they are accustomed to.


The Verdict

Louisville will want to make UNC have to rely on its true freshman quarterback who was solid but far from prolific against a lowly Cal squad. The key matchup will be in the trenches, where UNC's offensive line boasts significant depth and talent. Between UNC's blocking and Carter's ability to overcome the usual freshman nerves and make an immediate impact, UNC should boast a versatile offensive attack that will exploit, above all, Louisville's unreliable and now also injury-ridden secondary. For Louisville, Lamar Jackson is Lamar Jackson. But his supporting cast will not help Louisville cover on our NCAAF Picks.

Free College Football Pick: UNC +10Best Line Offered: at Heritage

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