CHAPEL HILL, N.C. (AP) — The losses have piled up for North Carolina. At least this week, the Tar Heels are playing a team they know how to beat.
UNC looks to snap its six-game slide Saturday when Western Carolina of the FCS visits in a matchup of teams on long losing streaks.
It's been a difficult past 24 months for North Carolina (1-8), which has lost 15 of its last 20 games — a slump that started with a loss at Duke on Nov. 10, 2016 — and is headed for a second straight last-place finish in the Atlantic Coast Conference's Coastal Division.
We need a win," coach Larry Fedora said. "Everybody knows that, and our guys, they deserve it more than anybody. It's not going to be something that just happens. We're going to have to do a great job of preparing this week and preparing for Western Carolina and we're going to have to outplay them."
Of the five teams the Tar Heels have beaten in that stretch, they welcome one of them — the Catamounts (3-7) — back to Chapel Hill with an eye on beating them again. UNC routed Western Carolina 65-10 in 2017.
And even though the Tar Heels are still stinging from a 42-35 loss to Duke and with a visit from neighborhood rival North Carolina State looming next week, UNC knows it can't afford to take a victory — any victory — for granted.
"I don't worry about it. I don't expect that to happen," Fedora said. "I believe that our leadership will do a great job in that locker room and our guys will be ready to go (during practice) and if we do a great job preparing all week, then there won't be a letdown."
North Carolina has forced six turnovers in its last two games — three against both Georgia Tech and Duke — but managed to turn them into just 10 total points, and failed to score after any of its takeaways against the Blue Devils. "That's discouraging, because we're constantly harping on creating takeaways by the defense," Fedora said.
OPPONENTS RUNNING WILD
The Tar Heels have the ACC's second-worst defense against the run, allowing nearly 230 yards per game on the ground. They've given up at least 200 yards rushing in each of their last three games, and while yielding a huge number to option-based Georgia Tech isn't a surprise, they also allowed Virginia to rush for 208 yards and Duke to roll up 268 yards on the ground. Western Carolina ranks third in the Southern Conference with an average of 216 yards rushing. "We're going to have to do a better job of that and not just talk about stopping the run, we're going to have to do it," Fedora said.
SCOUTING THE CATAMOUNTS
Western Carolina has lost seven straight games, and a loss would give the Catamounts their longest losing streak since they dropped 10 in a row in 2012, the first season under coach Mark Speir. They are 0-54 against FBS opponents and 0-29 against ACC schools.
This is the second meeting between the instate schools. QB Nathan Elliott threw four touchdown passes in the first half of last year's rout, and the Tar Heels scored 21 points in 2-minute, 46-second span.
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