North Carolina’s speed to get stiffer test

It shouldn’t have come as any surprise that North Carolina’s fast-break offense was seriously tested in Saturday’s game at Wake Forest.

The Demon Deacons are dozens and dozens of notches higher up the totem pole than Elon, Carolina’s opening-game victims in a 62-0 romp. Wake is faster, bigger, stronger and deeper. Plus, the Deacons may have one of the ACC’s best coaches in Jim Grobe, who turned a program that was easily historically the least successful among the major conferences into a competitive one that captured an ACC title six years ago.

UNC found that in falling to the Deacons 28-27 it isn’t close to being the team new coach Larry Fedora envisions having in time. But that’s part of the learning process when going from a traditional pro style offense to a spread that is predicated on being as fast in between snaps as once a play starts.

It will get tougher this weekend for the Heels, as North Carolina (1-1) heads to No. 19 Louisville (2-0) for a 3:30 p.m. ET kickoff.

Wake is a nice team that likely will play in the postseason, but Louisville is probably the top club in the Big East and a dark horse to make a special run this season. The Cardinals are talented, fast, athletic, can hit and are led by Charlie Strong, who just may be the most sought after coach in the nation this coming winter.

And the game is on the road at a place that has become increasingly rabid in recent years. Papa John’s Stadium has grown as the interest in Cardinals football has approached that of the school’s basketball program. The obstacles in front of the Heels are many and considerable.

“Speed, speed,” Fedora said when asked about what stands out about Louisville. “Especially defensively you can really see them fly around. They can run. They’ve got two defensive ends that get off on the ball and can go. They can give your quarterbacks a lot of problems. Their secondary, they like to play a lot of man coverage. They’re fast.”

And that’s just him talking about the defense, which doesn’t included Cardinals quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, who has passed for 576 yards and two scores in the first two games.

Louisville ripped apart rival Kentucky in the opener. The 32-14 final score isn’t indicative of the difference between the teams that day. The Cardinals were a bit flat this past weekend before pulling away from Missouri State.

Perhaps they were thinking ahead to the visit from the Tar Heels. It would make sense, as UNC presents Louisville an opportunity to register a victory that could help its climb up the BCS rankings. UNC is on probation and banned from playing in a bowl this season, but it is a talented team and extremely dangerous to any of its opponents.

In addition, catching the Tar Heels, who managed to amass 428 total yards vs. the Demon Deacons while allowing 426, including 327 through the air, coming off a one-point loss means the Cardinals expect to get UNC’s best effort.

“It was our first taste of adversity with this team, so we’re going to learn from everything we did on Saturday and improve…,” said UNC quarterback Bryn Renner. “Losing games isn’t fun, but we have to swallow it then kind of just move on. I think the biggest thing we can do is bounce back and compete even harder to win the next game.”

And Louisville will be ready for Fedora’s team, which is why this is such a fascinating challenge for UNC.

UNC likely would be favored on a neutral site. It has more playmakers on both sides of the ball, especially if tailback Gio Bernard is cleared to play, but the Louisville program is humming now that Strong’s philosophies are part of the Cardinals’ DNA. That change took place not long after Carolina knocked off the Cardinals 14-7 in Chapel Hill last season.

Louisville eventually tied West Virginia for the Big East title and lost a competitive game at N. C. State in the Belk Bowl. The momentum has carried into this season. Carolina knows this is a significant challenge.

“I know how those kids are going to get coached,” Fedora said about the Cardinals. “I know what the expectation level will be on that side and I know he’ll have them ready to play.”