North Carolina's Erik Highsmith fumbles the ball after a 22-yard pass completion from quarterback Bryn Renner in the second quarter of the Tar Heels' 59-38 loss to Clemson. ROBERT WILLETT - firstname.lastname@example.org
CHAPEL HILL -- Having committed six turnovers last Saturday in a 59-38 loss at Clemson, it’s obvious where UNC’s emphasis has been during this week’s preparation for Wake Forest.
Calling ball security a matter of “focus” and game “mindset,” Tar Heel coach Everett Withers said Thursday afternoon that the team practice each day focusing on ball possession.
“We’ve got to just take care of the ball,” Withers said. “It’s about just owning the football.”
Through eight games, the Heels (5-3 overall, 1-3 ACC) are -6 on turnovers. Wake (5-2, 4-1) is +5, including a pass interception in a 24-23 win at Duke last week.
Deacon quarterback Tanner Price has thrown three interceptions on 220 passing attempts, compared to nine interceptions on 203 attempts for UNC’s Bryn Renner.
Among the ACC’s primary QBs, Price and Clemson’s Tajh Boyd (3 picks, 278 passes) have thrown the least bloopers.
Although Carolina is favored, the job against Price and his star receiver Chris Givens got tougher for UNC with the loss of senior safety Matt Merletti, whose season ended at Clemson after he suffered a severe knee injury.
“But I think we’ve got guys back there who can do a good job of filling in [for Merletti],” Withers said.
The coach cited Tre Boston, John Smith and Brian Gupton as DBs who will share some of the role Merletti filled.
“I feel like those kids … are ready to go,” Withers said.
But if the Heels can’t prevent the big-play connections between Price and Givens (886 yards, 8 TDs in receptions), a third straight loss is certainly possible.
“We’ve had a good week - a lot of energy,” Withers said. “We know we can and need to play better on Saturday.