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UNC Football vs. Appalachian State: Winners, Losers, and Honorable Mentions

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With a third of the season down, who stood out in both good and bad ways?

Appalachian State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Time flies, doesn’t it? It feels like just yesterday we were eagerly awaiting the first football game of the season, and now we are already done with 33% of the season. At this mark, the Tar Heels stand at 2-2, and let’s be honest: five weeks ago if someone told you that they’d be 2-2 at this mark, you would have signed up for it. The way they’ve gotten it, winning their first two then losing their first two, makes it feel worse than it actually is.

As can be expected with a .500 record, there are reasons on both sides of the coin for this. Let’s dig into this a little more.

Winners

Javonte Williams: He went 16-94 on Saturday, and was a key engine in the 99-yard drive that put Carolina back in the game in the second half. Williams is a big reason why Carolina has already completed 3 drives over 95 yards resulting in touchdowns this season, which is amazing to think about. He almost single-handedly wore down the App State defense, and it was sorely needed as it looked like the game was almost out of the hands of Carolina before that drive.

Michael Carter: While Carter had a pretty pedestrian day on the ground, only gaining 17 yards, his opening kickoff that he almost took to the house was the best return of the season by far. Carter’s return sent a jolt of energy to an already electric crowd. It also affected how App State kicked from that point forward, refusing to kick anywhere near Carter for the rest of the game. On top of that, he scored the only other Tar Heels’ touchdown in the first half when he caught Howell’s pass as the clock was winding down. The play looked like UNC was conceding for a field goal and Carter seemed to want to make amends for not scoring last week against Wake.

Dominique Ross: This group has its issues, but you have to give credit to the one who stood out on Saturday. He had only five tackles, but had a huge sack in the red zone on App State’s first drive which seemed to blunt momentum that the Mountaineers were building. He also had another tackle for loss, and had two pass break-ups. He was tasked with doing even more when Jeremiah Gemmel was tossed in the second quarter, and the senior has more than made up for his transgressions that kept him out of the South Carolina game. It’s a great sign that whatever message Mack was trying to send him got through.

Losers

First Half Offense: The Miami game is looking more and more like an aberration, as Carolina once again seemed to forget that a football game is four quarters. Their first score wasn’t even really a result of the offense so much as it was Carter’s great return had knocked App State back. The drive chart after that: punt, strip sack for an App State touchdown, punt, and interception. On the fifth drive the offense got back in gear enough to score a field goal, and then in the two minute offense to end the half Carolina was able to score. When you lose by three, the inability to start on time absolutely makes a difference and it’s bitten Carolina for two weeks straight. Considering their opponent next week, expect it to be three.

Offensive Line: There’s just no cutting it any other way, this team misses both Nick Polino and Charlie Heck, and their play was bad for a good chunk of the game. Considering the difference, you can say their play absolutely cost Carolina this game. Need proof?

Howell did not have a chance on this play as Demtrius Taylor comes straight from his position without being picked up at all. They started to play better later on as observers noticed that Phil Longo shifted help up front to help with blocking. Polino is likely gone for the year and Heck is likely gone for a while. Thus, it’s time for the coaching staff to realize they are going to have to provide this line some more help, or Howell is going to get killed.

Jace Ruder: Longo and Brown probably thought they were being smart by trying to sneak Ruder into the game on their first real drive of the game and have him run for the first down. It caught a lot of people off guard alright, as Jace would end up getting injured and ended up leaving the game. Fans had to be assured that was actually Ruder, not Howell, who had gotten hurt. It’s clear that the staff wants Ruder to get some work in, as the depth at the position is paper thing and if he’s needed, they want him to be ready. Unfortunately, the result may be Ruder having to miss some time and Howell not having a real backup next week.

Honorable Mentions

Sam Howell had another Jekyll and Hyde performance, as he threw his first two interceptions of the year. There was plenty of good, though, and that he had the poise to continue to fight and once again put them in a position at the end of the game is a great base to build on...Myles Wolfolk had an up and down day, as did many in the secondary, but he at least got a turnover. Unfortunately Carolina gave it right back on the next possession...Myles Dorn was also part of the up and down secondary, but led the team in tackles. He managed to sneak through the line multiple times and got a couple of tackles for loss, but there’s no doubt they miss Patrice Rene...Ben Kiernan had one questionable punt, but overall his trend was more like Wake Forest than the first two games, booting it four times for a 42.8 yard average and getting one 58 yard kick..Rontavius Groves, aka Toe, did not have a great game holding onto the ball. The drop issues that plagued this team last year seemed to have reappeared in his hands.