Here is some key information you need to know about North Carolina, South Carolina’s first opponent of 2015.
2014 record: 6-7 (4-4 ACC).
2014 postseason: Lost to Rutgers in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Last head-to-head matchup: South Carolina opened up the 2013 season with a 27-10 Thursday night victory over the Tar Heels at Williams-Brice Stadium behind a 115-yard performance by running back Mike Davis. Quarterbacks Connor Shaw and Dylan Thompson each threw touchdown passes for the Gamecocks, who led 17-0 after the first quarter.
Head coach spotlight: Larry Fedora is entering his fourth season as the head coach in Chapel Hill and he’s hoping 2015 will be the year his Tar Heels can exceed expectations and appear in an ACC Championship Game.
Since coming to North Carolina in 2012 following a successful four-year run at Southern Miss, Fedora has experienced several highs and lows with his Tar Heel teams, but inconsistency has been the one thing that has remained constant.
North Carolina has gone 21-17 in its last three seasons with two bowl appearances and the Tar Heels would have played for an ACC Championship in 2012 if not for a self-imposed postseason ban.
Fedora’s spread offense has helped the Tar Heels score some points (they’ve averaged over 35 points per game since 2012), but North Carolina has never been able to play well consistently on defense, which has prevented any sort of constant success under Fedora.
A player to know on offense: The 2014 season was now-senior Marquise Williams’ first as the starting quarterback for North Carolina and considering the Charlotte native had to fight for the job during fall camp, he did very well.
Despite several nagging injuries, Williams still threw for over 3,000 yards last year, while also scoring 13 touchdowns on the ground.
Weighing in at 225 pounds, Williams is hard to tackle in the open field and his ability to keep the ball himself on read option plays keeps defenses guessing, which is why he was North Carolina’s leading rusher last season.
Plus, Williams told ESPN’s David Hale that he hasn’t “felt this good since sophomore year in high school.”
A player to know on defense: While North Carolina struggled mightily on defense last season, the Tar Heels do return senior middle linebacker Jeff Schoettmer.
Once a walk-on who later earned a scholarship, Schoettmer has started 24 games during the past two seasons and recorded a team-high 74 tackles on 2014. He’s now expected to be a vocal leader on defense for North Carolina.
“I’ve grown up and matured,” Schoettmer told The Daily Tar Heel’s Pat James.
What the Tar Heels did well in 2014: Thanks to Williams’ stellar play, North Carolina’s passing attack was its main strong suit.
The Tar Heels averaged 278.4 passing yards per game last season and had three different wide receivers score at least four touchdowns.
Now-junior Ryan Switzer, primarily a slot wide receiver, led the team with 61 receptions, while Mack Hollins, a former walk-on, recorded a team-best eight receiving touchdowns during his sophomore season.
Quinshad Davis, perhaps North Carolina’s most skilled wideout, had a bit of a disappointing junior campaign, but the Gaffney native should still be a threat in 2015.
What the Tar Heels did poorly in 2014: Like the Gamecocks, North Carolina’s achilles’ heel in 2014 was stopping opponents from scoring.
Not a single Tar Heel appeared on the ACC’s first, second or third all-conference defensive teams in 2014 and it showed.
Opponents averaged 39 points and 497.8 yards per contest against the Tar Heels last season.
North Carolina gave up at least 40 points six different times in former defensive coordinator Vic Koenning’s final season and East Carolina even put up a whopping 70 points on the Tar Heels in a 27-point victory.
What’s different in 2015?
The most notable difference between last year’s Tar Heels and this year’s version is the approach on defense.
Koenning is out and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik is in as defensive coordinator, which means North Carolina’s 4-2-5 alignment is a thing of the past.
The Tar Heels will instead go with a more traditional 4-3 scheme under Chizik, who became the highest-paid assistant football coach in North Carolina’s history when he was hired in January.
How much will the addition of Chizik help? That remains to be seen, but the Tar Heels can’t do much worse than they did last year.