CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — And so it is here, on Tobacco Road, that Boston College finds itself at the crossroads of the 2013 football season. In comparison to last year’s 1-5 start, the Eagles made significant strides by remaining in contention for their first bowl berth since the 2010 season with a 3-3 start (1-2 Atlantic Coast Conference).
Now the question remains: Which way do the Eagles go from here?
With six games left in the season, beginning with Saturday’s conference game against North Carolina at Kenan Stadium, BC will attempt to make a strong stretch drive to the finish line.
“This is a new start to the second half of the season now,’’ said BC coach Steve Addazio, whose team was off last week. The Eagles are recuperating from a 24-14 loss at then third-ranked Clemson on Oct. 12.
“It’s a new slate and we have to get to 1-0 right now,’’ Addazio said. “We have six games and we have to establish and pick up where we left off with a high energy, high emotion, high octane, physically rough football team and we have to take that to Chapel Hill this weekend.’’
The Eagles, who will be looking to snap an 0-for-8 skein away from the friendly confines of Alumni Stadium, will encounter a North Carolina squad (1-5, 0-3) looking to rebound from a 27-23 loss at home last Thursday night to the nationally-ranked Miami Hurricanes, who sealed the victory in the last 16 seconds.
“This is a team that was picked early to have a really strong year and they have played well,’’ Addazio said of the Tar Heels. “They played the No. 10 team in America, the Miami Hurricanes, and played them nose up. They lost that game in the end but you can see the ability level of the Carolina football team. So we are playing a very fine opponent.’’
The Tar Heels, who have played the nation’s fourth-most difficult schedule this season, according to the Sagarin rankings, are led by senior quarterback Bryn Renner, who has completed 119 of 188 attempts for 1,414 yards and eight touchdowns with four interceptions. A veteran of 30 career starts, Renner needs 130 passing yards to become the third player in UNC history to throw for 8,000 yards, joining T.J. Yates and Darian Durant.
Renner has been complemented by sophomore quarterback Marquise Williams, who has passed for 390 yards and 4 TDs and rushed for 95 yards to rank as UNC’s third-leading rusher behind senior running back A.J. Blue (224 yards) and sophomore running back Romar Morris (171 yards).
“He can run as well as throw,’’ Addazio said of Williams. “He’s a dual-threat guy and where they head with that I really don’t know. So we have to prepare for two different styles of guys.’’
Then there is tight end Eric Ebron, UNC’s leading receiver (31 catches, 532 yards, 3 TDs). Ebron, a 6-foot-4-inch, 245-pound junior, had a breakout performance against the Hurricanes with a career-high eight catches for 199 yards and a 71-yard TD pass from Williams.
“It’s hard to match up with that guy,’’ Addazio said. “That guy’s a great player. He’s a big, strong, fast, physical guy with tremendous ball skills. I think it’s the ability to change up your coverages, the ability to try to disrupt them.
“Those mismatches, when you get those guys, you can’t say I’m going to get a better cover guy on him. You have to worry about the fact in the run game he can get mismatched and overpower you.’’
The Eagles will try to respond by overpowering UNC with their physical brand of football, which has been spearheaded by rugged 6-foot, 227-pound senior running back Andre Williams, the league’s leading rusher who ranks fifth in the nation (139.7 yards per game).
“Offensively, the running back they have [Williams] is doing a tremendous job and they’re putting him in a lot of positions to do that,’’ said UNC coach Larry Fedora. “[There’s] a lot of formations, a lot of shifting, and motions with which to confuse a defense or get a defense misaligned and take advantage of it. He’s a good player.
“Defensively they’re doing quite a bit. A lot of it is again to probably create some chaos and confusion for your blocking schemes and protections and those things. They’ve done a really good job with it at this point in the season.”
But now that they’ve reached this crossroads in their campaign for a postseason berth, Addazio doesn’t expect the Eagles to deviate from their physical approach to the game.
“That’s our edge,’’ the BC coach said. “We have to live that and be that. We can’t be something else. If we don’t live up to that, we’ll have problems. If we do live up to that, we’ll be in a street fight, a four-quarter game, and we have to win it in the end.’’