Ramses and ... Ramses will welcome the Vandals from Idaho to Kenan Stadium today. ROBERT WILLETT
CHAPEL HILL — All right, so I’m not actually in the press box at Kenan Stadium yet. Waiting for the rain to die down to begin my 10-minute walk over from my humble abode. But close enough.
North Carolina today hosts Idaho in what will be the Tar Heels’ final non-conference game of the season. An abbreviated things to know about each of these teams …
The Vandals: They’ve lost seven consecutive games and rank in the 100s nationally in several categories – rushing offense, total offense, scoring defense, pass efficiency defense. The quarterback, Dominique Blackman, has thrown for more than 300 yards in two of his three starts, but Idaho shouldn’t pose much of a challenge today.
The Tar Heels: They’ve been mostly dominant in the second half this season, especially defensively, but UNC is seeking a fast start today. We all remember what happened in the first half at Louisville, and then the Heels started somewhat slowly against last week against ECU. Is this the week the Heels finally start fast?
Idaho at UNC
When: Saturday, 3:30 p.m.
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill
TV/radio: Fox Sports South/106.1-WRDU
Key player: QB, Dominique Blackman. There haven’t been a lot of positives for Idaho amid its 0-4 start, but Blackman’s overall play has perhaps been the most noticeable positive for the Vandals. Outside of his performance in a 63-14 loss at LSU, where he threw four interceptions, Blackman has given the Vandals a chance to win.
He threw for 352 yards in the team’s 21-13 loss at Bowling Green, and threw for 306 yards and three touchdowns in a 40-37 overtime loss against Wyoming last week.
Blackman, who has started the past three games after not playing in the season-opener, is completing 73.1 percent of his passes.
If the Vandals are to have any hope of keeping it close, Blackman must play well, and avoid turnovers.
Key matchup: Idaho wide receivers, including Najee Lovett, vs. S Jabari Price and the UNC secondary
Only 14 teams in the nation have attempted more passes than Idaho’s 154 attempts. The Vandals have basically foregone their running game – they rank 118th nationally in rushing offense – in favor of the pass.
Blackman has an array of receiving targets who will test the Tar Heels’ secondary. Lovett, a junior college transfer, leads Idaho with 22 receptions for 227 yards, but Jarie Level (20 catches) and Mike Scott (18) are also active in the passing game.
Price earned ACC defensive back of the week honors for his play last week in UNC’s 27-6 victory against East Carolina. How well Price and other members of the Heels’ secondary fare against Idaho’s receivers is likely to determine how long the Vandals hang around.
Key mismatch: QB Bryn Renner and the Tar Heels’ passing offense vs. the Vandals’ pass defense
Renner has thrown for a combined 684 yards in his past two games. No other quarterback in UNC history has thrown for more yards in consecutive games. Idaho’s pass defense, meanwhile, ranks 109th nationally.
That’s not good news for the Vandals, who have allowed at least 222 yards passing in all four of their games. Renner threw one interception in UNC’s first three games, but he has now thrown 78 consecutive passes without an interception. After some struggles against in losses against Wake Forest and Louisville, Renner seems to have a firm grasp of the Heels’ up-tempo spread offense.
Key number: 11 – Idaho has suffered 11 turnovers through the first four games, and its defense has generated only four. The minus-7 turnover ratio ranks 117th nationally, and it’s one of the reasons why the Vandals will bring a seven-game losing streak into Kenan Stadium.
Pulse check: After playing four games with natural meaning – the first game of the season, the ACC opener, a ranked opponent on the road and an in-state rival – it wouldn’t be surprising if UNC came out a bit flat against Idaho. But Tar Heels coach
Larry Fedora has emphasized the importance of getting off to better starts. The Tar Heels’ first-ever game against the Vandals lacks the buzz that has existed in previous weeks, but it’s another chance to build confidence and momentum before Virginia Tech visits Kenan Stadium next week.
Quote of the week: “No doubt about it, especially when you have an 0-4 team that is probably the best in the country in my opinion. There is talent out there … They have [had] unfortunate things happen to them. Yeah, I think you're always worried about a team like that.” –UNC coach Larry Fedora, on the potential danger of facing a winless team like Idaho, which is 0-4.
Loosely-related-to-the-game pregame haiku:
Idaho famous taters
Spud war at Kenan
Prediction: North Carolina 38, Idaho 13