CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– Now 2-0 on the season, No. 20-ranked North Carolina faces its third out-of-conference test tomorrow when they face the Minnesota Golden Gophers. The Tar Heels are coming off a 40-34 overtime victory over App State and will play the Gophers for the first time in program history.
If there’s anything Mack Brown has learned from his experiences coaching in the Big 12 and SEC, it’s that he likes his teams playing physical football – something that UNC has struggled with these past two games. He went as far as to call the team “soft” in reference to the Mountaineers’ 42 plays at halftime, compared to the Tar Heels’ 29.
Following the win, Brown has emphasized the importance of closing games with each position group holding themselves accountable.
“We talk about finishing all the time,” Brown said after the win. “There were times we didn’t finish during the night, but we finished when it mattered at the end.”
In what was expected to be a tight contest between the two rivals, the Tar Heels made several mistakes on Saturday with several unnecessary penalties, including a face mask called on defensive lineman Kevin Hester Jr., a call that gave App State an automatic first down with a gain of 15 yards.
“It was just that kind of night where nothing happened good for us and we had to make things happen good for us and had to keep fighting through it,” Brown said. “We had opportunity after opportunity. We’ve got to do a better job of taking advantage of opportunities and getting rid of missed assignments.”
North Carolina will have to be especially careful of this when they face the Golden Gophers, who rank fourth nationally in fewest penalty yards per game and fifth in total penalties allowed.
Another thing UNC must clean up is their coverage after giving up 14 points because of unsuccessful third down conversions with Brown saying, “we’ve gotta play tighter.” While the defense wasn’t as impactful as they were against South Carolina, they still made their mark by putting pressure on Mountaineer quarterback Joey Aguilar and forcing him to complete just 51.2 percent of his passes.
The Tar Heels will be playing against a familiar face at 3:30 as former UNC Jack player Chris Collins transferred to Minnesota back in January where he has one season of eligibility remaining. Collins played in 46 games for the Tar Heels, recording 68 tackles (33 solo), 12 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
“I look forward to seeing him,” said coach Tim Cross, who previously coached at Minnesota and is now the leader of UNC’s defensive line. “Love him, he was a great kid here. I hope we run over him 15 or 20 times and get after him a bit. He’ll be a great challenge for him.”
North Carolina’s History Against the Big Ten:
North Carolina is 16-11 all-time against Big Ten opponents yet hasn’t played against the conference since facing Illinois in 2016. Let’s get into some of the history of how the Tar Heels have fared in Big Ten play…
Illinois Fighting Illini
The Tar Heels are 4-0 against the Fighting Illini including back-to-back wins over them in 2015 and 2016. The last time they played, former Tar Heel Mitch Trubisky notched four touchdowns in a 48-23 win at Illinois Memorial Stadium.
Ohio State Buckeyes
North Carolina has faced the Buckeyes four times as well yet lost three of those meetings with their solevictory being a 14-3 win back in 1965.
The Terrapins left the ACC back in 2012, which is also the last time they faced the Tar Heels and fell 45-38 after former quarterback Bryn Renner tallied five touchdown passes.
I’ll also include Indiana in here and while the two teams haven’t played since the twentieth century, UNC is 2-0 in the series with beatdown wins in 1997 and 1999.
Who: North Carolina (2-0) vs. Minnesota (2-0)
When: Saturday, September 16th, 3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
All-Time: No prior series history