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Tar Heels look to avoid letdown

North Carolina is determined not to repeat history.

For the second consecutive year, the Tar Heels face Utah a week after a hard-fought victory over rival North Carolina State. In 2004, they relished the win a bit too much and suffered a 46-16 setback to the Utes.

Saturday at Kenan Stadium in Chapel Hill comes a chance for redemption. UNC gets another crack at Utah, seven days following a thrilling 31-24 victory over N.C. State.

"We know that after a win or after a loss, it's move on," defensive end Tommy Davis told the Associated Press. "You have another game to prepare for."

UNC coach John Bunting, whose squad gave up a school-record 669 yards to Utah last season, understands the importance of looking ahead.

"We need to put last week's game behind us and focus on Utah," he told reporters. "It was fun to win the game, it was good for our fans and players, but our focus is on Utah."

It's something that may be easier said than done. Since 2001, the Tar Heels have won back-to-back games only one time.

According to wide receiver Mike Mason, Bunting has continually reminded his team to put the past behind them and start over this week.

The sooner, the better. UNC is in the midst of a challenging schedule. Before last week's win, the Tar Heels dropped games to nationally ranked Georgia Tech (27-21) and Wisconsin (14-5). After hosting Utah, they'll take on Louisville, Virginia, Miami (Fla.), Boston College, Maryland, Duke and Virginia Tech.

"We're excited for the opportunity to play a quality team like North Carolina on the road. It will be a great experience for our players to play a game in ACC territory. North Carolina is a very fast, athletic football team," said Utah coach Kyle Whittingham. ". . . We know that they are a good football team and much better than their 1-2 record indicates."

After last season's game in Salt Lake City, Whittingham noted, the Tar Heels bounced back to defeat Miami and wound up making a bowl appearance.

Thus far, in 2005, they've established themselves as a strong defensive team — racking up 10 sacks in their last two games.

"They're very active and very quick — tough up-field guys," Whittingham said. "It's a good front. It's probably the best defensive front we'll see all season long."

Offensively, quarterback Matt Baker is coming off his best half of play. He completed 12-of-14 passes down the stretch last week and currently ranks second in the ACC in total offense (246.67 ypg).

"He's a good player," Whittingham said. "He's faced some very good defenses."

UNC also returns kickoffs well. The Tar Heels average 26 yards per return to rank 22nd nationally.

"They're solid," Whittingham said. "Any time you've got that much athleticism on a football team your special teams are going to be very good because of the athletes you can draw from."


Utes on the air

Utah (3-1) at North Carolina (1-2)

Saturday, 11:30 a.m., MT

TV: Ch. 14

Radio: 700AM


E-mail: dirkx@desnews.com