UNCs road warrriors looking forward to long-awaited home opener

The Tar Heels game against James Madison will be their first in Chapel Hill since a 59-21 victory against Miami last Nov. 14, six games ago

Brett Davis—USA Today Sports

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina football team can be excused if it has to stop for directions on its way from the locker room to the field at Kenan Stadium on Saturday. It’s been that long since the Tar Heels played at home. Their game against James Madison will be their first in Chapel Hill since a 59-21 victory against Miami last Nov. 14, six games ago. That’s the longest streak of games away from home by an ACC team since N.C. State played eight straight on the road in 1967-68. It’s also UNC’s latest home opener since 2010. It’s a schedule that has given new meaning to the phrase “there’s no place like home” for coach Larry Fedora and his road-weary players. “We feel like home field is an edge for us, so we’re anxious to get back and play in front of our fans,” Fedora said. “We’ve played in front of hostile crowds early on. That crowd last week (at Illinois) was loud and they did a good job. We’re looking forward to coming home and having that edge for us.” The Tar Heels have been on the wrong side of the home field advantage in each of their first two games this season. Even though their opener against Georgia in Atlanta was technically a neutral site game, their fans were decidedly in the minority as the watched a 10-point third quarter lead slip away into a 33-24 loss to the Bulldogs. The atmosphere was even more contentious last week in Champaign, especially after UNC gave the Illini’s first sellout in five years plenty to cheer about by allowing a 65-yard touchdown run on the third play of scrimmage. The Tar Heels eventually weathered the storm and pulled away for a 48-23 victory Fedora believes will take on greater significance as the season goes on because of the adversity his team was forced to overcome. “I don’t think there’s going to be an environment our kids can’t handle moving forward,” he said. As battle tested as UNC might be because of its early season travels, linebacker Andre Smith is looking forward to seeing friendly faces in the crowd for a change. “Being out there in the Tar Pit man, I’m telling you, there’s no place like it,” Smith said. “I love playing there. I really just can’t wait to go out there, jump into the Tar Pit and see all the blue because lately I’ve been in a sea or red and orange. I’m ready to see some blue again.” The Tar Heels may need that home field advantage more than expected against a JMU team that comes to Chapel Hill ranked No. 8 nationally in the FCS poll and averaging better than 400 yards per game on the ground. UNC’s challenge became even greater on Thursday when its already shorthanded defensive line lost two more players to injury. According to a report by Tar Heel Illustrated, true freshman end Tomon Fox suffered a serious knee injury that will likely sideline him for an extended period. Fox played 56 snaps in last week’s win at Illinois. THI is also reporting that senior tackle Nazair Jones, who leads the team with three tackles for loss, will also sit out Saturday’s game after suffering a concussion at practice. Fedora has yet to confirm either injury.