Saturday won't be the first time Utah coach Urban Meyer has crossed paths with North Carolina quarterback Darian Durant.
Several years ago, when Meyer was an assistant at Notre Dame, he recruited Durant.
"We decided not to offer him, but Darian Durant is a helluva player," said Meyer.
One, as it turned out, the Irish would have appreciated.
Entering the final five games of his senior season, Durant has racked up some impressive numbers with the Tar Heels. He currently ranks among the Atlantic Coast Conference's career leaders in touchdowns (fifth, 59), total offense (ninth, 8,308 yards), passing yards (11th, 7,547 yards) and pass efficiency (13th, 136.79 rating).
Durant was named ACC Offensive Back of the Week after throwing three touchdown passes in last Saturday's thrilling 30-24 win over rival North Carolina State. He completed 15 of 23 passes for 192 yards.
One of his primary targets, though, won't be around when the Tar Heels face the 10th-ranked Utes at Rice-Eccles Stadium. Wide receiver Adarius Bowman, who caught a 46-yard TD pass against the Wolf Pack, was one of three players who were suspended after being charged with marijuana possession by campus police. Middle linebacker Fred Sparkman, UNC's leading tackler, and defensive tackle Isaiah Thomas are the others.
Despite the adversity, Durant said the team's mood is good.
"Will they be missed? Yes, but we feel that we still have some guys that can step up and make some plays in those players' positions," he explained.
Since 14 different receivers have caught passes for Carolina this season, the offense may not miss much of a step. Besides, the ground game has been a bigger factor this season. The Tar Heels are 3-0 when gaining more than 135 yards on the ground and 0-3 when they don't.
Defense is UNC's major shortcoming. Carolina ranks 112th in total defense (476.3 ypg) and is particularly bad defending the run, ranking 114th (246.5 ypg).
Utah, however, is looking beyond the numbers. UNC did racked up 356 yards of offense on an N.C. State defense that ranked second in the nation.
"They have some pretty decent athletes," said wide receiver Steve Savoy. "They're going to be pumped up and ready for Saturday."
On paper, though, the Tar Heels may be in trouble without Sparkman and Thomas. Utah ranks among the nation's top 14 offenses in scoring (11th, 37.8 ppg), total offense (12th, 464 ypg) and rushing (222.4 ypg). The Utes also have a passing attack that ranks 33rd (241.6 ypg) in the nation.
"I've never seen anything like it," said UNC coach John Bunting.
Sophomore linebacker John Edwards leads the Carolina defense. He garnered ACC defensive honors last week after making eight tackles, recovering a fumble and intercepting a pass in the victory over N.C. State.
"We're hoping now that he can put another (week) together so that he can become the consistent player that I want him to be," said Bunting. "Because he has a lot of talent, and he is a great kid."
EXTRA POINTS: The Tar Heels were scheduled to arrive in Salt Lake City last night . . . Bunting is 16-27 in 3 1/2 seasons as head coach at UNC . . . Carolina's schedule is rated as the fourth-toughest in the nation — just ahead of BYU's — according to the Sagarin rankings . . . The Tar Heels have played 25 true freshmen over the past two seasons, including 13 this year . . . UNC has scored in the red zone 20 times in 22 opportunities . . . Carolina hasn't defeated an AP Top 25 team since blasting No. 13 Clemson 38-3 in 2001.
A limited number of reserved seats and 2,000 general admission seats remain for Utah's football game with North Carolina Saturday. As of Friday afternoon, there were 150 chair seats and 200 reserved bleacher seats still available. Tickets can be purchased at the Rice-Eccles Stadium ticket office, www.utahtickets.com or by calling 581-UTIX. The ticket office will open at 10 a.m., Saturday, for game day for ticket sales.
Utes on the air
North Carolina (3-3) at
No. 10/11 Utah (5-0)
Saturday, 8 p.m.
TV: KJZZ, Ch. 14
Radio: KALL, 700AM