If you went into yesterday’s game against Virginia Tech wanting a defense-optional spectacle, you most certainly got your wish. The Tar Heels and the Hokies exchanged blows to produce 1,151 yards of total offense, and the final score of 56-45 broke the ACC record for most points scored in a ranked vs. ranked game. Needless to say, there are some things to be concerned about when it comes to UNC’s defense, but major props go to the offense for having an outstanding performance.
The big win against Virginia Tech certainly showed us a lot about who UNC is to this point of the season. Let’s discuss a few key things that we learned from this game,.
Is this run game unstoppable?
Sam Howell finished yesterday’s game completing 18 of 23 passes for 257 yards, three touchdowns, and zero interceptions. What’s even more amazing is that a number of his incomplete passes were due to dropped passes. To put it bluntly: Sam Howell was basically perfect in the win against the Hokies. Despite this fact, Howell somehow wasn’t the star of the show. That honor is shared by running backs Michael Carter and Javonte Williams for their incredible performance in the run game.
Carter and Williams ran for a total of 383 yards and are the first duo in school history to run for 150+ yards apiece. Both players were able to get just about anything they wanted everywhere on the field, and it made for a very long day for Virginia Tech’s defense. The Hokies’ missing players certainly had some impact in their ability to stop the bleeding, but even with that said it can’t be denied that the one consistently good aspect of this team thus far has been in the backfield.
While 383 yards is a bit excessive to expect each and every game, it’s hard to find a team on UNC’s schedule that either A.) has the personnel to deal with this run game or B.) is willing to sell out to stop the run and let Sam Howell demolish them in the passing game. It may be way too early to say that Carter and Williams are unstoppable, but at the very least they are going to cause major problems for just about every defense they face in the regular season.
Dazz Newsome is alive and well
Dazz Newsome had been noticeably absent in the games against Syracuse and Boston College, and it was hard to figure out why that could be. After only producing a head-scratching 31 receiving yards in the first two games, Phil Longo finally found a way to get Newsome involved, as he finished the game with 7 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown.
What was very noticeable in the first quarter was that Virginia Tech’s zone defense left a lot of room for Newsome to go to work in the slot. Howell was able to get some relatively easy passes into him, and he was able to do a good amount of damage after catches. What is also worth noting is the times that Howell didn’t throw the ball his way — there were times when Newsome was comfortably open in the middle of the field but Howell had more productive shots downfield that more often than not were completed. To put it simply: Newsome got the job done all day long.
After seeing somewhat of a renaissance from UNC’s offense, one has to wonder if Newsome’s absence in the first two games came from Howell’s determination to try hitting so many home run throws in the first two games. It’d be interesting to go back and watch some film to see if this is truly the case, but either way, an involved Newsome makes this offense that much more dangerous.
Defensive struggles are still a sore spot
I’ll be extremely honest: I don’t know what to make of UNC’s defense this season. After doing such a good job of handling Syracuse, Jay Bateman’s squad has now allowed 67 points from opponents in just two games. What’s even more concerning is that his happened two different ways: in the passing game against Boston College, and in the run game yesterday against Virginia Tech. The Hokies ran the ball for a brutal 260 yards (I know, it’s hard to not laugh at that considering what UNC did) and finished the game with 495 total yards and zero turnovers.
There are a few important details that should be mentioned in all fairness to Bateman’s squad. The first is that as far as Boston College goes, they were only responsible for 20 of the 67 total points that I mentioned before. The second thing worth noting is that Carolina’s defense spent a lot of time on the field in the third quarter. Part of the reason is because the Hokies caught UNC’s special teams off guard with an onside kick and continued to wear them down with their run game. Finally, Dyami Brown had two back-breaking drops that ended two drives quickly for the offense. When you have a team that would love nothing more than to wear a defense down with the run, it’s a recipe for disaster.
With these things in mind, it’s hard to be extremely concerned about this defense right now, but it’s fair to be concerned all the same. Hopefully Bateman will be able to figure out what’s going on and how to keep his squad from repeating yesterday’s disappointing performance.