North Carolina (6-6) will kick off ACC bowl season the day after Christmas against Rutgers (7-5), and we preview both sides before the game.
North Carolina Offense
- Scoring Offense: 34.3 PPG (35th nationally)
- Passing Offense: 279.7 YPG (24th nationally)
- Rushing Offense: 145.8 YPG (92nd nationally)
- Total Offense: 425.5 YPG (51st nationally)
North Carolina received some good news on offense before their team even hit the practice field to prepare for Rutgers. Junior quarterback Marquise Williams will be in game shape for the Quick Lane Bowl following a leg injury in the regular season finale against NC State. Williams is key for the pass-heavy Tar Heels, and recently picked up third team All-ACC honors. Williams played in all 12 games for North Carolina, throwing for 2,875 yards and 20 touchdowns while only throwing nine interceptions.
Williams’ favorite target this season has been sophomore receiver Ryan Switzer, who also left early against the Wolf Pack. Switzer has recovered from the concussion he sustained and will be ready for Rutgers. Switzer lead the Tar Heels in receptions (55) and yards (708) while hauling in four touchdowns. Fellow sophomore Mack Hollins lead the team in touchdowns with eight and was second in yards with 611. Junior Quinshad Davis was also big for North Carolina’s solid receiving corps, accounting for six touchdowns and 440 yards on 38 receptions.
The Tar Heels offensive productivity drops off on the ground, where they rank 92nd nationally. Their quarterback Williams lead the team in nearly all rushing categories: 178 attempts, 732 yards and 12 touchdowns. Outside of Williams the rest of the Tar Heels backfield suffered through a rough season. Sophomore T.J. Logan was the team’s leader at running back with 472 yards and three touchdowns, while junior Romar Morris and freshman Elijah Hood both added four scores.
North Carolina Defense and Special Teams
- Scoring Defense: 38.9 PPG (119th nationally)
- Passing Defense: 263.5 YPG (108th nationally)
- Rushing Defense: 232.1 YPG (117th nationally)
- Total Defense: 495.7 YPG (118th nationally)
As potent as the Tar Heels offense can be, their defense has been drastically different in 2014. North Carolina ranks at the bottom in nearly all defensive categories nationally after surrendering almost 500 yards per game this season. Their porous defense lead the Tar Heels to an up-and-down season where they followed up a huge rivalry win against Duke with an equally lopsided loss to NC State. That lead to the dismissal of defensive coordinator Vic Koenning.
No player on the North Carolina defense recorded more than 72 tackles, with defensive back Tim Scott and linebacker Jeff Schoettmer tying for the team lead. Their sack and interception stat lines were equally unimpressive, with lineman Jessie Rogers (5.5 sacks) leading the team and defensive back Brian Walker setting the bench mark in picks with three. North Carolina was also one of the worst teams in the nation defending against third down conversions, allowing opponents a new set of downs 50.5% of the time. The Tar Heels defense was easily the worst in the ACC forcing the Heels to often rely on their offense to keep pace in shootout victories.
North Carolina also ranks near the bottom of college football in punt return average at 110th, but slightly better returning kickoffs finishing 63rd. Ryan Swtizer has handled all of the Tar Heels punt returns this season, averaging 4.91 yards per return. T.J. Logan and Romar Morris have both been effective returning kickoffs with 25.3 and 21 yard averages respectively. Place kicking was another sore spot for the Tar Heels this season. Sophomore Nick Weiler failed to convert on three of his eight field goal attempts, and Thomas Moore made only one of his four attempts. Senior Tommy Hibbard punted 64 for times and claimed a 41 yard average on those punts.
- Scoring Offense: 25.6 PPG (89th nationally)
- Passing Offense: 231 YPG (62nd nationally)
- Rushing Offense: 147.9 YPG (89th nationally)
- Total Offense: 378.8 YPG (84th nationally)
The Rutgers offense has been inconsistent this season. The Scarlet Knights have been both a team that moves the ball efficiently and puts up points, and a team that grinds to a halt on offense. Senior Gary Nova is a solid if not spectacular option at quarterback and can manage a game effectively. He boasts a solid quarterback rating of 144.6 in 2014. He completed 58% of his passes with 20 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. Junior Leonte Carroo has easily been the most important target for Nova, hauling in more than three times the receiving yards of the next closest Scarlet Knight player. Carroo lead the team in every major receiving category, receptions (53), receiving yards (1,043) and touchdowns (10). There is a significant drop off in the rest of the receiving corps with players such as Janarion Grant and tight end Tyler Kroft.
The Rutgers backfield uses a number of options and no running back broke the 500 yard rushing mark this season. Sophomore Desmon Peoples comings closest at 447 yards on 115 attempts while also adding three scores. Junior Paul James and freshman Robert Martin tied for the team lead in touchdowns with five. James only saw action in four games, carrying 63 times, but he averaged 90 yards per game, good for a team high. Rutgers doesn’t have a spectacular option out of the backfield, but their array of options could still present issues for the dismal Tar Heels run defense.
Rutgers Defense and Special Teams
- Scoring Defense: 30.9 PPG (92nd nationally)
- Passing Defense: 227.8 YPG (68th nationally)
- Rushing Defense: 211.8 YPG (107th nationally)
- Total Defense: 439.5 YPG (98th nationally)
The Rutgers defense performed poorly for much of the season, but it feels like a more solid unit when compared with their counterparts in this bowl game. The Scarlet Knight’s had an especially tough time stopping the run, but performed better against the pass which should help against Marquise Williams and company. Sophomore linebacker Steve Longa was a pleasant surprise for Rutgers this season recording a team high 93 tackles and two sacks. The mobile Williams will have to avoid a dangerous pair of bookend lineman on Rutgers, freshman Kemoko Turay and junior Darius Hamilton. The duo combined for 12.5 sacks and 69 tackles in 2014. The Rutgers secondary recorded only seven interceptions this season, with four of them split between defensive backs Anthony Cioffi and Lorenzo Waters.
Receiver Janarion Grant figures prominently on the Rutgers special teams unit, handling both kick off and punt returns. Grant returned 36 kick offs this season, averaging 25.2 yards per return, but was limited to only six punt returns for an average of 7.5 yards per kick. Junior kicker Kyle Federico had a shaky season this year, missing one extra point and finishing just 5-of-19 on field goal attempts. Tim Gleeson and Joseph Roth split the team’s 61 punts almost evenly, with Gleeson the more consistent of the two with a 40.3 average.
Outlook and Prediction
Both schools got to the Quick Lane Bowl on a similar path; solid play followed by drastic regression. The teams should be evenly matched with neither group boasting much of a running game or a strong defense. Ultimately, the Rutgers defense will be able to contain Williams enough and Leonte Carroo will have a breakout day receiving against the historically bad Tar Heels defense.
Rutgers 34 North Carolina 24
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