Game Week Preview: Elon
Carolina takes on Elon Saturday in the season opener for both teams. It's the first-ever meeting between the two schools. The game kicks off at 12:30 pm EDT. If you can't be in Kenan Stadium, the game is televised on ACC Network. Locally, that's Fox 50 this weekend.
As you no doubt already know, the Tar Heels will be playing their first game under new head coach Larry Fedora. Elon is in its second season under Jason Swepson, a former Tom O'Brien assistant at both Boston College and NC State.
Here's a brief look at the game, position group by position group.
Carolina is led by junior and second-year starter Bryn Renner. Renner threw for more than 3,086 yards and a school-record 26 touchdowns a year ago. Now healthy (after playing with bone spurs), the Springfield, Va. native takes the reins of offensive coordinator Blake Anderson's no-huddle, spread scheme.
Elon's Thomas Wilson is preseason second-team All-SoCon. Wilson started all 11 games a year ago, throwing for 3,057 yards (to lead the Southern Conference) with 23 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He is sixth on the school's career passing yards list with 3,500.
Redshirt sophomore Giovani Bernard returns to the Tar Heel backfield after posting 1,253 yards on the ground a year ago. A.J. Blue and Romar Morris provide a different look.
Elon lost all three members of the 2011 backfield, so they'll rely on junior Matt Eastman, who had been at h-back and has never carried the ball, sophomore Karl Bostick and a trio of true freshmen.
Carolina is thin at this position, as Erik Highsmith and Jheranie Boyd are the only healthy veterans with meaningful experience. While Highsmith has been a reliable complement to Dwight Jones in the past, Boyd has been anything but consistent - brilliant one game, a non-factor the next. Sophomore Sean Tapley has a chance to step forward as well, and true freshman Quinshad Davis is rising up the depth chart. The Tar Heels may split out tight ends Eric Ebron and Jack Tabb for help here.
Elon's Aaron Mellette was named to seven different All-America teams following his junior season. His 1,639 yards through th eair set new SoCon and Elon single-season records. Rasaun Rorie had just eight catches for 100 yards in 2011.
Carolina feels good about an o-line that returns four of five starters from 2011, including preseason All-America left guard Jonathan Cooper, and preseason All-ACC left tackle James Hurst.
Elon has two juniors, two seniors and a sophomore on the starting unit. Left guard Kyle Herbert and center Clay Johnson are returning starters for the Phoenix.
Defensive end Kareem Martin and defensive tackle Sylvester Williams are the most experienced members of this unit. In the new 4-2-5 scheme, Dion Guy plays the new bandit position, a hybrid defensive end/linebacker, and defensive end Tim Jackson has the opportunity to step up in his junior season.
A traditional 4-3 defense, Elon returns four starters on the defensive line. Nose tackle Tony Thompson was named Preseason Second Team All-SoCon.
Middle linebacker Kevin Reddick has 31 career starts and looks to make an impact in his senior season. He is joined by sophomore Travis Hughes, who had 13 tackles a year ago.
Elon's Blake Thompson is a team captain at weakside linebacker after spending three years in the defensive backfield. Thompson had 60 tackles at safety a year ago. Odell Benton and Jonathan Spain have seven starts between them.
Carolina returns veterans Jabari Price and Tim Scott at cornerback and Tre Boston at strong safety. Redshirt freshman Sam Smiley is the starter at free safety. Senior Gene Robinson plays the ram, a linebacker/safety combo.
Elon strong safety Chandler Wrightenberry is the most experienced of this unit, with 16 career starts.
Casey Barth returns from injury for the Tar Heels; he needs just three field goals to tie brother Connor (54 FGM) for first all-time at UNC. Tommy Hibbard averaged 39.2 yards per punt a year ago. Return specials Thorpe is out indefinitely.
Elon's Adam Shreiner was 10-15 in 2011 on field goal attempts. Kenton Beal punted for an average of 38.4 yards.
What to look for on Saturday: With both sides of the ball playing entirely new schemes, there will be some hiccups here and there. Carolina will have to identify a standout in the passing game. The Tar Heels have a reliable runner in Bernard and behind the veteran line, he should be able to find some holes. Elon relies on Mellette through the air, and he's good, but they struggle to establish the run. Tar Heel talent and conditioning wins the day.