Tar Heels open ACC play against Panthers after canceled game
CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina is finally back on schedule.
The Tar Heels open Atlantic Coast Conference play Saturday at home against Pittsburgh after having a game canceled due to Hurricane Florence. It will mark their first chance to climb out of an 0-2 start , though it comes after a week that took them out of in-season routines.
"It's an unforeseen break," UNC coach Larry Fedora said, "and we've got to turn it into a positive."
UNC was set to face No. 16 UCF last weekend, but Florence's approach toward the Carolinas' coastline forced the schools to cancel the game Sept. 11. A day later, Fedora said, the coaches dismissed the players, with roughly half leaving campus with classes canceled and the rest sticking around.
The Tar Heels didn't practice for four days as the storm brought wind and rain. And as they returned to the practice field Monday, there was also work to aid Florence relief efforts.
Fedora and several players spent part of Tuesday loading the program's equipment truck with donated items being brought to campus to help areas affected by the storm. The players also decided to give their $15 per-diem meal money for last week's canceled game to acquire $1,275 in supplies for former UNC linebacker Kevin Reddick's donation drive for his hometown of New Bern, one of several flooded communities in the eastern half of the state.
Now it's time to focus fully on football again.
"It's definitely weird having those four days off," offensive guard Nick Polino said. "It's not something that usually happens . even on a bye week. We just kind of did some recovery, some guys got a workout in if we could.
"Other than that, we're ready to be back in the swing of things."
The Panthers (2-1, 1-0 ACC) are coming off a home win against Georgia Tech in their league opener, though they're preparing for their first road game of the season. They're also trying to earn their first win against UNC since joining the ACC for the 2013 season.
Pitt has lost all five meetings against its Coastal Division foe, all by one-possession margins.
"It's by four points here, five points there," Pitt senior cornerback Phillipie Motley said. "And it's a topic of discussion just because we've been in the game and had chances to win the game. But like I said, hey, we just didn't make the plays when it was time to make the plays."
Here are things to know about Saturday's Pitt-UNC game:
QADREE'S QUEST: Pitt senior running back Qadree Ollison is running well. The former league offensive rookie of the year leads the Panthers with 283 yards rushing and three touchdowns while averaging 6.3 yards per carry. He credits his success to his line, some added explosiveness for trimming body fat in the offseason and time spent working primarily as a blocking back — which helped him better understand how to set up his own blockers.
ELLIOTT'S ACCURACY: North Carolina needs quarterback Nathan Elliott to be more accurate . He's completed roughly 51 percent of his passes with one touchdown in two games. The junior said he's working on it and determined to "be better."
BRACE YOURSELF: Pitt quarterback Kenny Pickett is traveling with extra hardware: a brace on his left knee. The sophomore typically wore a brace during practice but not in games — that is, until coach Pat Narduzzi ordered Pickett to wear it full time after Pickett narrowly escaped serious injury when a Georgia Tech player crashed into the knee last week. Pickett says it shouldn't limit his mobility and the biggest issue is simply comfort.
WATCH LIST: North Carolina receiver Anthony Ratliff-Williams had a huge game at Pitt last year. He returned the opening kickoff for a 98-yard touchdown, threw a trick-play scoring pass and had the go-ahead TD catch in the fourth quarter of the 34-31 win.
ADVANTAGE?: UNC's altered schedule means more time for banged-up players to heal and extra time for UNC's coaches to scout Pitt. "Nobody is banged up and they've had two weeks to prepare for us," Narduzzi said. "I think it's an advantage for them."