UNC at UConn preview: Huskies try to run Heels like it's the Iditarod | Sports
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Thursday, September 10, 2009

UNC at UConn preview: Huskies try to run Heels like it's the Iditarod

Posted by on Thu, Sep 10, 2009 at 7:30 PM

No. 19 UNC (1-0) at UConn (1-0)

[12 p.m., Sept. 12, Rentschler Field]

ESPNU

click to enlarge UNC hopes UConn is as cuddly as this guy.
  • UNC hopes UConn is as cuddly as this guy.

UNC travels to East Hartford, Conn., to face the UConn Huskies; the second year in a row the teams have met.  In 2008, UNC pummeled No. 24-ranked UConn 38-12, despite NFL first-round pick Donald Brown rushing for 161 yards.

The Tar Heels thrashed an FCS team 40-6 in week one and must adjust to BCS-caliber speed, especially before facing tough games against ECU and Georgia Tech.

UConn, meanwhile, beat a solid Ohio team in week one 23-16 and showed little drop-off from the loss of Brown.  Both Andre Dixon and Jordan Todman gained 100 or more yards on the ground for the Huskies.

Key stats: Three -- that's exactly how many punts Bruce Carter famously blocked against the Huskies last season and is the No. 1 reason why the game wasn't even close.  Don't expect Carter to get his paws on any this time as UConn will be keying for him on punt protection.  Instead, this could set up for big returns from Da'Norris Searcy or Kendric Burney or even allow other special team players to get to the punter.

30 vs. 259:  The Citadel scrapped together only 30 rushing yards against Carolina's front seven -- earning praise from the Bulldogs' coach Kevin Higgins, who said the Tar Heels were just as good as Florida's front seven.

The Huskies, on the other hand, piled up 259 yards on the ground against Ohio.  Dixon and Todman will test UNC's experienced linebacker corps led by Quan Sturdivant.  If UNC can't stop the run, UConn quarterback Zach Frazer could be in for a big day picking apart one-on-one coverage.

Best message board tidbit on the game: From a UNC fan on UConn's Scout.com football forum:  "Oh yes your stadium that is like an hour from your campus, and it's a noon game.   I'm really scared about that atmosphere."

UConn fan's response:  "You'll see ... now how about you run along and teach one of your kids/siblings how to brush their tooth."

UNC fan's response:  "Yeah you got it all mixed up; State fans are the ones with no teeth."

Take notes, North Carolinians.  We're lucky if we have more than one tooth!

UNC will win if ... UConn's defense fails to smother Shaun Draughn.  Draughn played the role as a seasoned running back against The Citadel and said after the game he didn't feel like he'd crossed the 100-yard mark -- a good sign for a back who carried the ball 20 times.

Carolina can't fall asleep against the passing game, either.  The toughest part about playing a running team is defending against play-action passes, especially if you must put eight or nine players near the line of scrimmage to stop the run.

UConn will win if ... The Carolina defense loses the turnover battle.  Frazer had a tough outing against Ohio, tossing three interceptions, and UNC's secondary, mainly Deunta Williams, thrives on turnovers.

If the Huskies' running game does enough to put points on the board without calling upon Frazer to carry them, the Heels could be in for a long day.

What people are saying about the game: Butch Davis on UConn's running back situation:  “As ironic as it is that Donald Brown was a first-round draft choice, he actually wasn’t the starter a couple of years ago. Andre Dixon was the starter ahead of him, and he got injured, and it opened the door for Brown to come in and play.  So as recently as two or three years ago, their coaching staff felt like Andre Dixon was a better running back than a guy that went in the first round last year.”

My dog, Moe, who is part Husky:  "Let's make a friendly wager on this game.  If UConn loses, I won't eat poop for a week and you get to instead."

Vegas line (1-0): UNC (-5)

My prediction (1-0): Without the blocked punts and the turnovers last season, this game would've come down to the wire, and I believe UConn would've pulled it out.  But that was then and Carolina's defense has matured.  Frazer's inconsistency will kill the Huskies late in the game even though the running backs will make Carolina's front seven look silly at times.

Carolina's superior ability to make plays through the air in the fourth quarter will win this game, while UConn's rushing attack will bring Carolina fans back to reality.

UNC 27, UConn 20

NCAA Football 10 simulation score (1-0): UNC 29, UConn 15

UNC key performance:  Draughn, 28 carries, 145 yards and a touchdown

UConn key performance:  Dixon, 26 carries, 128 yards and a touchdown

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