Red dawn

By and

The No. 10 U football team (6-0) will face a relatively unknown force this weekend when the North Carolina Tarheels (3-3) come to town for an 8 p.m. showdown at Rice-Eccles Stadium Saturday night.

The Utes have never faced the Tarheels in the school’s history. In fact, the Utes, having faced at least one opponent from every other Division I-A conference, have never encountered a team from the Atlantic Coast Conference.

The ACC is well-known for its basketball prowess, but this year the conference has emerged as one of the finest football conferences in the land. North Carolina is not considered by experts to be the cream of the ACC crop, but coming off of a monumental victory over their rivals North Carolina State, the Tarheels are gaining momentum.

Not a stranger to ranked opponents, North Carolina has already faced four ranked teams this season, making the Utes its fifth ranked opponent in seven games. North Carolina lost its first three games versus ranked squads No. 6 Virginia, No. 7 Florida State and No. 17 Louisville.

A victory over then-ranked No. 21 NC State last weekend likely rejuvenated the confidence of the Tarheel squad. But the suspension of three of its top players for marijuana possession likely dampened the poise of this struggling group.

After a bumpy road, the Tarheels will come to Salt Lake City to face a Utah team that hasn’t yet faced many of the lows usually associated with the average football season. The undefeated Utes have had their share of injuries as well as an alleged sexual-assault incident, for which the charges have since been dropped. But for the most part, the Utes have made it through the first half of their schedule relatively unscathed. Last weekend the Utes enjoyed a bye week, giving the team a chance to rest while the Tarheels were beating up on their rivals.

After a season of watching everything go right, U head coach Urban Meyer expressed concern at the beginning of the week on the impact the bye week might have on the Utes. Meyer said that a week off can be damaging to a team’s momentum and overall preparation. Knowing preparation would be the key to success against the Tarheels, Meyer began working on a gameplan to defeat them as soon as the opportunity presented itself.

“I’ve been working on them for a year,” Meyer said. “As soon as I saw them on the schedule, we started thinking about what to do against them.”

Meyer is glad the Tarheels are coming to Utah where they will get to deal with cooler weather, as opposed to the Utes traveling to North Carolina, where the team would have to deal with intense humidity.

“I’m just glad they’re coming here,” Meyer said.

Meyer explained the nature of football in the South is much different than in any other part of the country.

With extremely athletic players, the speed of the game against North Carolina will likely be faster than the average Mountain West Conference game.

“Southern football is a little different,” Meyer said. “When you think of Southern football you think athleticism, and North Carolina has that.”

The U defense will be tested against one of the most athletic players on the Tarheel squad in aggressive runner Jacque Lewis, who is averaging 7.1 yards per carry this season. The Tarheels will probably rely heavily on their running game following the suspension of Adarius Bowman, the team’s top receiver.

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