North Carolina Tar Heels (7-5, 6-5 ATS) vs. Tennessee Volunteers (6-6, 7-5 ATS), Music City Bowl, Thursday December 30th, 6:30PM Eastern LP Field Nashville, Tennessee
By Jay Horne, College Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Betting Odds: UNC -2/Ten +2
The Tennessee Volunteers 2010 season took a turn for the worse way back in January when Coach Lane Kiffen left the Volunteers high and dry after just one season in Knoxville. Tennessee was left scrambling for a replacement and decided to turn to Derek Dooley who had little Head Coaching experience. The Volunteers season started off with a dreadful 2-6 start, but the team started maturing during the 2nd half of the season. Tennessee rallied to win 4 straight games to close out the season and restored some faith for the future of Volunteers football. Now the 6-6 Volunteers have a chance to capture a postseason victory, something that seemed impossible just a few weeks ago, when they host the North Carolina Tar Heels in the Music City Bowl in their home state of Tennessee.
NC’s season was completely thrown upside down before their year began as well. North Carolina suspended as many as 13 players before their opener with LSU this season for numerous NCAA violations. The Tar Heels remained without many of those players throughout the remainder of the football season which caused them a lot more heartache than expected. North Carolina entered the year with a ton of optimism and were ranked 18th in the preseason polls. However after the suspensions were given, the Tar Heels were left trying to find answers for the remainder of the season. It is safe to say that the North Carolina football program’s reputation was tarnished, but they can still end the season on a high note with a victory at the Music City Bowl. A victory would be huge not only to put some focus back onto the football field, but it would also build a lot of momentum for those talented youngsters that will be returning in 2011.
The North Carolina defense, which was affected most by the suspensions, really struggled as the season progressed giving up as much as 27 points per game in the last 4 weeks of the season. Since most of the starters were ineligible, the defense was left with a lot of inexperience on the defensive side of the football. The inexperience factor was felt heavily in the North Carolina secondary where the Tar Heels gave up 205 passing yards per game this season. The secondary will again be a major concern when they line up against a talented Tennessee receiving core in the Music City Bowl. If the Tar Heels continue to give up big plays in the passing game, it will really hurt their chances to pull out the victory.
On offense, the Tar Heels are led by QB T.J Yates. Yates has completed 67.6% passing this season for 3,184 yards, 18 touchdowns, and 8 interceptions this season. Yates has played very well in the 2nd half of the season and closed the season with two performances over 400 yards passing in the last 4 games of the year. Considering how Tennessee has struggled against the pass, Yates should have an opportunity to spread the ball around. North Carolina wide receiver Dwight Jones is the go to man in the passing game. Jones has 895 receiving yards while averaging near 16 yards per reception on the season. If this game turns to be a high scoring shootout, Jones will have to deliver on some big plays down the field to help North Carolina strike quickly.
Earlier this season, the Volunteers offense was simply an eye sore. The offense averaged just 13 points in their first 4 conference games and they were desperately searching for answers. As the year progressed, the team found a spark in QB Tyler Bray. Bray led the team with 300 yard plus passing performances in 3 of the Vols last 4 games and helped Tennessee close the season with 4 straight wins. The offense posted 50 points in two of those last 4 outings this season and simply came to life behind Bray. Senior wide out Denarius Moore exploded during the 2nd half of the year as well with the help of the renewed success in the passing game. Moore racked up over 600 yards receiving and 5 touchdowns in his last 5 games alone. Moore was also single handedly responsible for the Volunteers 24-14 victory over Kentucky after catching 7 passes for 205 yards to rip apart the Wildcats secondary. North Carolina has struggled against big time wide receivers this season so look for Moore to be the big play threat yet again.
Despite being a mediocre offense for most of the season, Coach Dooley did do a good job of keeping the ball in the hands of the Volunteers’ playmakers. Tennessee relied on running back Tauren Poole heavily earlier this season when the passing offense was stuck in neutral. Poole delivered rushing for 994 yards and 11 touchdowns on the ground providing a bit of consistency. As the offense found ways to get Moore the ball in the passing game, Poole’s number of carries decreased and his numbers did as well. However, Poole is still a very solid runner that can be very affective between the tackles. If the offense has trouble moving the football, do not be surprised if Coach Dooley turns to Poole to keep the team on the correct side of the field and help control the clock.
Jay’s Pick to Cover the Point Spread: Look for a shootout to ensue with Tennessee squeeking out the straight up win. My pick would be UNC if this game was played anywhere outside of the state of Tennessee, however, with it basically being a home game for the Vols, the crowd will provide the home cookin’ Ten. needs to capture the win.