Carolina bounced back Saturday night on the road at Illinois, earning a comfortable 48-23 victory. Here are a few plays that stood out.
(0:24) One of the things that we’ve heard about with Mitch Trubisky is his underrated speed and athleticism. The claims coming out of the Carolina camp have been that Trubisky is faster than former quarterback Marquise Williams when running in a straight line. That’s all well and good, but there are few times, especially for a quarterback, where straight line speed comes into play in football. Marquise had his ups and downs throughout his Tar Heel career, but one thing that could not be denied was his home run hitting ability once he got into the open field. That’s why I was pleasantly surprised to see Trubisky get out and prove his speed and athleticism on this 1st down and 10. The quarterback draw was such a key component to the Carolina offense while Williams was at the helm, so it was good to see the offensive play calling staff look to go back to it last weekend. I’d expect that we’ll see more of this from the offense moving forward given its success versus Illinois.
(0:50) It’s the second week in a row that T.J. Logan has shown his game-breaking speed and ability on special teams. Logan didn’t return this kick to pay dirt like against Georgia, but he quickly shifted momentum to Carolina’s side. Not enough can be said about Logan up to this point. I said last week that Carolina has as good of a running back duo as any in the nation when Logan is on top of his game, and that appears to be the case early on this season. I couldn’t be happier for Logan, given that he has seen his role as the feature back dissipate upon Elijah Hood’s maturation. Logan will continue to play an enormous role in UNC’s quest to defend its Coastal crown.
(1:13) Speaking of players that have shown out of recent, Nick Weiler has made a career for himself. We all remember the tumultuous 2014 campaign where Carolina’s kicking game was among the nation’s worst—among other things. Weiler shocked me and many others when he knocked home a 40+ yard field goal in the 2015 opener versus South Carolina. Weiler’s continued quality of play gives Carolina the consistent ability to produce points from outside the red zone when a drive stalls.
(2:05) Defensive lineman Jeremiah Clarke has had a fantastic start to the season, compiling 10 tackles with a sack and fumble recovery. The absence of Tyler Powell and Dajaun Drennon has given Clarke the opportunity to show his value along the defensive front and he has made the most of it. Clarke, playing at the tackle position, controls his offensive blocker until using a ‘swim move’ to pursue and sack the Illinois quarterback.
(2:55) Trubisky continued to show his athleticism all night long. This play, in particular, is one that I don’t believe his predecessor makes, at least with his arm. Trubisky steps up into the pocket and moves toward the right sideline, keeping his eyes downfield, until an open Khris Francis breaks toward the goal line. Credit to Trubisky, but equal credit is deserved on Francis’ part. It’s rare that you find a running back that has the presence of mind to get up field once they’ve completed a short route. Receivers know that if they go long they should come back to the ball, and vice-versa, if they go short they should head up the field. The same isn’t always seen in running backs, but in this case Francis makes the heads-up play.
(3:48) Lets talk about defensive leaders for a minute. Andre Smith, like his defensive teammate Clarke, is having an outstanding start to his season. Smith was all over the field Saturday night, helping him earn ACC linebacker of the week honors. On back-to-back plays early in the second half, Smith quickly snuffs out a screenplay and throw out to the flats by the Illini to get the Tar Heel defense off the field. Smith was said to have the potential to lead this defense this season. Thus far, he has done that and more.
Let it be known, that Naz Jones, Carolina’s other defensive standout, played a heck of a game collecting seven tackles, two being for a loss, and overall disrupting the Illinois offensive front throughout the night.
None to show on the film provided, but I will express my disappointment in the 65-yard touchdown run reeled off by Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn. Carolina did a solid job, for the most part, after the run, only allowing 117 rushing yards from that point on, but it’s still frustrating to see those types of gains earned on the ground. The only reason I stress over that is the fact that a healthy and inspiring James Conner comes to Chapel Hill in two weeks, followed by a trip to Tallahassee met by Dalvin Cook. Those are only two of the great backs that Carolina will face this season. The sooner the defensive front is able to sure up the running game, the better off the Heels will be in ACC play.
The other play that bothered me Saturday night was the decision not to run the ball at the end of the first half inside the five. I can go on another rant about Carolina focusing on the run game, but I won’t. My colleague Jake Lawrence has been keeping a tally so far this season on Carolina’s success running and throwing the football inside the 10-yard line. To what should be no one’s surprise, the Tar Heels have found themselves far more successful when handing the ball to one of their two outstanding backs, or, heck, letting Trubisky run America’s favorite play, the naked bootleg. I doubt that there will be a day where I am completely satisfied with Fedora and co.’s play calls, but I like to envision it’s one where they run the ball far more than they pass.
Next up, the Tar Heels open their home slate against FCS James Madison. My hope is to only show you positives for next week.