WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (AP) — North Carolina and Wake Forest both started the year with home wins against lower-division opponents. Yet only the Tar Heels are feeling good heading into Saturday’s Atlantic Coast Conference opener between the instate rivals.
The Tar Heels beat Elon 62-0 in the first game under new coach Larry Fedora while unveiling a no-huddle spread offense and a 4-2-5 defensive scheme. But the Demon Deacons struggled against Liberty, scoring the go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter of a 20-17 win that left the players disappointed with their performance.
The 105th meeting between programs separated by about 75 miles represents the chance to move on for both teams.
“Expectations from fans and really everybody associated with the program is that when you play an FCS school, it should be a walk in the park,” Wake Forest coach Jim Grobe said. “We as coaches know that’s not the case. I think our players are disappointed they didn’t play better. But I think looking back on it, there’s a lot of relief that we got a win. … I think our players realize that we missed some opportunities to play better.”
The most pressing concern for the Demon Deacons has been a revamped offensive line with four new starters and the health of starting tailback Josh Harris, who suffered an apparent concussion after five carries against Liberty. Grobe said he expected Harris would be OK for Saturday, while he said quarterback Tanner Price needs to get rid of the ball quickly to help his linemen.
Receiver Michael Campanaro, who had nine catches for 96 yards and a score before leaving last weekend’s game with an ankle injury, said he expects his teammates will regroup with a more consistent performance against the Tar Heels.
“After such a close game, you’ve got to make sure guys aren’t questioning the team and how good we really are,” Campanaro said. “I think it’s an experienced group. A lot of us played last year and we know how good we are.”
Fedora is pushing his Tar Heels not to be satisfied with one dominant performance against an overmatched opponent. The Tar Heels ran a streamlined game plan against Elon to ensure the players had the basics down, then Fedora pointed out after Wednesday afternoon’s practice that this would be the first time his players had to install opponent-specific plans within the new scheme.
“We don’t want to stay the same and we want to get better,” junior quarterback Bryn Renner said. “We’re going to have to put a lot more stuff in for Wake Forest this week and that’s going to continue on as the season progresses. We’re going to add different nuances and try to mix it up a little bit.”
North Carolina’s offense finished three points shy of tying a school record, had its best scoring output in 17 years and had its first shutout since 1999. In addition, tailback Gio Bernard — who left the Elon game in the first half with a minor knee injury — said he expected to be ready to play against the Demon Deacons.
The game has some extra significance for the Tar Heels considering they are ineligible for a bowl this fall due to NCAA sanctions. Instead, Fedora has talked to his players about the importance of beating instate opponents.
A win against the Demon Deacons would give the Tar Heels the chance this season to sweep the state’s four other FBS programs for the first time since 1981.
“Under the circumstances, there are certain (goals) that we can reach, and this is one of them,” Fedora said. “So we’re going to work hard for it.”
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