by Emily Fedewa, UNC Athletic Communications
CHAPEL HILL - Last year, it was Zero Dark Thursday against top 10-ranked Miami in mid-October.
This year, the Tar Heels will once again suit up for a themed night game at Kenan Stadium, but that's where the similarities between the two games end.
Billed as the Stripe Out Game, with alternating sections of the stadium sporting Carolina blue or black, UNC will take on San Diego State in just the second game of the season, after a 56-29 win over Liberty last week.
The night game will be at the nearly the same time and exactly the same place, but with a different theme, opponent and, hopefully, a different result.
Last year's heartbreaking four-point loss to Miami capped a 1-5 start to the 2013 season, but also sparked a five game winning streak that earned UNC a berth in the Belk Bowl.
Before the defeat and the late season run, though, was the excitement, the energy, the crowd, and playing under the lights, and while the Tar Heels hope to be on the winning end of this year's night game, there's one thing they hope doesn't change: that energy.
"I'm pretty excited, I hope we bring the fire back," senior safety Tim Scott said. "At the start of the Miami game, hearing the crowd cheer and all that, that's what we're expecting on Saturday. It was probably the loudest game I've played at Kenan, and we're really looking forward to (this year)."
In order to live up to that energy, UNC will have to improve on both sides of the ball and get into its groove much earlier than it did last week.
After a sluggish first half, the Tar Heels didn't get going against Liberty until the middle of the third quarter. The defense forced three of its six turnovers to set the offense up to score four touchdowns in less than four minutes to put the game away for Carolina.
Head coach Larry Fedora knows that having the three defensive players back that were suspended for last week's game will certainly help the defense improve, but it'll need more than that to excel.
"I think (having those players back) will help them a lot, but that's not why (the defense) was average this last week," Fedora said. "We've got to get more production out of those guys. (San Diego State is) going to throw the ball down the field, so that means they're going to have to hold the ball a little bit, which means we've got to get some pressure on them."
Redshirt freshman defensive end Dajaun Drennon thinks the UNC defense is more than capable of doing just that.
"(San Diego State passing the ball) plays to our strengths a lot," Drennon said. "Last week, the quarterback was getting the ball off really fast, so I feel like we'll have a better chance of getting to the quarterback (this week)."
Getting to the ball will also play into Carolina's strength at forcing turnovers.
"That's been one of the main things we've been practicing all throughout camp, just focusing on our turnovers," Drennon said. "So we're going to just keep pounding the ball out, trying to get sacks and picks."
And the Tar Heels hope that will help lead to win under the lights this year.