Old Dominion preparing to host struggling North Carolina
Bobby Wilder would probably like to avoid talking about Old Dominion’s first game against North Carolina.
It was four years ago in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and the Monarchs trailed by 60 points at the end of three quarters. Wilder ultimately agreed to shorten the fourth quarter by 5 minutes in a painful 80-20 loss.
A lot has changed for Old Dominion in the time since, and while they will still be the underdog when the Tar Heels visit Norfolk, Virginia on Saturday, Wilder believes his team is getting closer to at least looking the part of legitimate opponent.
”It’s the size and strength in the trenches” that sets Power Five teams apart, he said. ”When you look at that box from tight end to tackle and the linebacker area, we’re closing the gap in the size. … Sure, athletically you may be a step slower in some spots, but it’s the offensive and defensive lines that are the biggest differences.”
The Tar Heels (0-2) will be the second Power Five team to visit Foreman Field. North Carolina State came in 2015 and walked away with a 38-14 victory.
This will be a North Carolina team looking to bounce back from its first 0-2 start since 2010, and one that allowed Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson and No. 14 Louisville to scorch it for 705 yards last weekend.
”I was honestly kind of embarrassed as a defense giving up so many yards,” cornerback M.J. Stewart said of a 47-35 loss . ”As a defense we pride ourselves on getting better but we haven’t showed it yet. So it’s just something we’ve got to keep working on, and it’s going to pay off if we just keep working.”
Some things to watch when North Carolina visits Old Dominion:
QB ROTATION: UNC coach Larry Fedora is still not committing publicly to a starting quarterback. LSU graduate transfer Brandon Harris was the Week 1 starter but threw two interceptions and ceded most of the second-half work to redshirt freshman Chazz Surratt. Surratt then drew the Week 2 start against Louisville and was 12 of 14 for 168 yards and two scores, but didn’t play after halftime due to a leg issue. Both players looked more comfortable in the offense last week, combining to complete 29 of 37 passes for 384 yards and three touchdowns.
SACK ATTACK: For most of Wilder’s tenure at Old Dominion, the offense has been more efficient than the defense. That’s changing this season. Old Dominion had a program record seven sacks in its season-opening victory against Albany, and then topped that with eight last week in a 17-7 victory at UMass. The Monarchs’ 15 sacks lead the nation.
SHORTHANDED: The Monarchs lost their most productive wide receiver, Jonathan Durhart, with a broken foot last week. They have also been with Melvin Vaughn, another wideout, and lost right tackle Chad Hendricks to a knee injury last week against Massachusetts. Wilder hopes Lawry will be ready this week.
DEFENSIVE STRUGGLE: The Tar Heels rank last among Power Five teams by surrendering 587 yards per game, while they rank next to last among those 64 schools by allowing 41 points per game. Defensive tackle Jeremiah Clarke says they know they can play, ”so we’ve just got to get back to playing like ourselves and bringing that swagger back.”
ROUGH STRETCH: North Carolina is the first of two consecutive Atlantic Coast Conference schools on Old Dominion’s schedule, and the game come back-to-back. Next week, they travel to face Virginia Tech.
AP sports writer Aaron Beard contributed from Chapel Hill
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