No. 17 UNC looks to bounce back vs. Western Carolina

·3 min read

After a couple of close games with mixed results, North Carolina is a heavy favorite for its next game.

Still, the No. 17 Tar Heels have to put aside their disappointment going into a non-conference game against Western Carolina on Saturday afternoon in Chapel Hill, N.C.

North Carolina fell 31-17 to Notre Dame last week, extinguishing the possibility that the Tar Heels could reach the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game. Now there are two regular-season games remaining.

"We have to go back and get our offense on track, and put all three phases together," coach Mack Brown said. "We have not played our best game. But this shows where we're headed and what we can do."

It also will be Senior Day for the Tar Heels (6-3), though it's uncertain how many of these players might choose to stay for the 2021 season. Playing this season won't count as a year of NCAA eligibility.

"We sat down at (the) open date with all of our seniors and juniors that could possibly go to the NFL and we tried to give them as much information as we could," Brown said. "If you're coming back, here's how much we think you would play right now. If you want to graduate and go into the business world, we'll help you get a job. ... With the seniors that could come back with the NCAA rule this year, we just asked them, 'Any of you that want to come back, we'd love to have you.'"

North Carolina's program appears to be on the rise again, as evidenced by a place in the top 25 of the College Football Playoff standings for the second week in a row.

There are still things to fix after nine penalties costing the Tar Heels 90 yards in the Notre Dame game.

"We talk about penalties each week," Brown said. "It's something that we've got to improve."

North Carolina showed considerable improvement defensively against Notre Dame, which scored the game's final 17 points. Prior to that, the Tar Heels needed a huge rally to upend Wake Forest 59-53.

This will be the third consecutive home game for North Carolina.

Western Carolina (0-2) began its abbreviated fall schedule Nov. 14, and this will be its last 2020 game. The Catamounts, who compete on the Football Championship Subdivision level, are expected to play a Southern Conference season beginning in February.

"I think we have a chance to be a pretty good football team," Western Carolina coach Mark Speir said. "We have to control our technique and our consistency."

Western Carolina is coming off a 49-17 loss to Eastern Kentucky on Nov. 21 -- a game that Speir missed because of a positive coronavirus test. Its other game was a blowout setback to nationally ranked Liberty, which moved ahead of North Carolina in some polls this week.

It's a big task for the Catamounts.

"The biggest thing for us is preaching the ball security," Speir said. "... The consistency of doing your job. Don't try to be Superman."

North Carolina has already defeated in-state opponents North Carolina State, Duke and Wake Forest this year.

Brown had a team face Western Carolina only once before, with his 1983 Appalachian State squad falling to the Catamounts.

These teams weren't slated to meet this year, but North Carolina's lone non-league game in a revised schedule was set to be against Charlotte in September. That was called off because of Charlotte's coronavirus issues.

When Western Carolina was added to the schedule, it was listed for Dec. 11. It was moved up six days when the ACC shifted numerous games to new dates in the past few weeks.

This will be the third meeting in four years between the teams, with the Tar Heels winning 65-10 in 2017 and 49-26 in 2018.

--Field Level Media