With Thanksgiving suddenly around the corner, and with the basketball season kick-off the day before and a season-defining football game against Notre Dame the day after, I wanted to compare aspects of each team to Thanksgiving feast favorites. Some of you may have different dishes on the table than the ones I’ve selected, but this list reflects my tastes, both in food and Tar Heels.
Let’s dig in!
Turkey - Sam Howell
The centerpiece. The foundation. Sides are great, but they aren’t what bring families together. Turkey is the most important dish on the table. That is why Sam Howell is Carolina’s turkey.
The sophomore quarterback is averaging 329 yards passing per game and has tossed 23 touchdowns, rushing for an additional three. Aside from two hiccups against inferior ACC opponents (games where he personally passed for 817 yards and seven touchdowns), Howell has helped Carolina take the next step from last season where Mack Brown, in his first year back at the helm, was teaching the Tar Heels how to win again.
Whatever the outcome of each UNC football game this season, the offense has looked much more assured than last year. Sam is trusted to make plays with his arm, run to create more time to throw or to get first downs by design, and when match-ups dictate, can simply handoff to his two top-notch running backs.
I’m especially thankful that Carolina will get one more year of Sam Howell. Next year could potentially be a Heisman campaign for the UNC quarterback before he departs Chapel Hill to become a first round pick in the NFL draft.
Mashed Potatoes - Leaky Black
The glue that binds the plate/team together. Never thought of as the star attraction, but so important to the overall performance of the meal. Mashed potatoes if done right can sometimes go unnoticed, but are instrumental in making each bite with multiple sides mixed with turkey taste right.
Leaky Black’s name doesn’t jump off the team sheet when scouting against the Tar Heels. But if you look at how he contributes to the team in so many ways, it becomes apparent how important Leaky is. Last year’s debacle saw Leaky’s minutes increase by 219%, and the sophomore point-forward (by default) made 28 starts.
Leaky won’t score you a lot of points (even hesitating to pull the trigger when wide open for three-point jump shots), but he will get assists (2.6 per game on a horrrrrrible offense), rebounds (particularly on the defensive end), steals, and blocks. With two freshmen point guards to assume primary ball-handling duties, expect Leaky’s game to elevate just like it did when Cole Anthony returned from his knee injury.
Stuffing - Garrison Brooks
How appropriate it is to assign this side dish to the ACC Preseason Player of the Year (and Naismith Award watch list nominee), Garrison Brooks. Ordinary bread crumbs combined with seasoning, stock, and a few surprises make for the best Thanksgiving side dish. Check out this video of the senior power forward stuffing the rim (and opponents taking it to the rack) over and over:
Garrison’s rise from defensive specialist to primary scoring threat over his three years under Roy Williams (he more than doubled his scoring last year, going from 7.9 to 16.4 ppg) is nothing short of remarkable. Despite humble beginnings (Brooks was a 24/7 Sports 3-star prospect), Garrison has climbed the ladder, with an All-ACC 2nd Team appearance last year and his bevy of preseason nominations this year.
Garrison will have a buoyed supporting cast by his side this year, particularly in the post. With legit center prospects in Walker Kessler and Day’Ron Sharpe (and hopefully Sterling Manley), Garrison will not have to bang bodies down low, and should have plenty of gas in the tank for some more stuffing on the offensive end. With the departure of Cole Anthony to the NBA, Garrison is the only proven scorer on the roster. The incoming freshmen class look promising, but it will be reassuring to have Garrison as Carolina’s heartbeat.
Green Bean Casserole - Javonte Williams & Michael Carter
Green bean casserole is a side that is technically good for you (it does have green beans in it), but is still hearty and delicious. The ability to run the ball is good for offenses. College football in recent years has seen such an emphasis on passing attacks that traditional rushing can sometimes be ignored.
Not so at Kenan Stadium. Phil Longo has found harmony in mixing run and pass plays. Carolina seems equally adept in taking what the defense gives them and imposing their will. A rushing attack like that is good for an offense, because a stout run game travels no matter the weather.
The Gruesome Twosome of Javonte Williams and Michael Carter have been absolutely key to Carolina’s offensive success this season. They’ve built the foundation that Sam Howell can stand on to drop bombs all over the field. In early games against Syracuse and Boston College, UNC found the deep pass hard to come by, but after teams got bashed by Javonte enough times, more attention had to be paid to the line of scrimmage.
As a result, deep passes have returned in spades. In the win against Wake Forest, Sam Howell threw a 75-yard touchdown to Dazz Newsome for a one-play touchdown drive, and on another had a 65-yard pass to Khafre Brown on the first play of another touchdown drive.
There are so many highlights to share, but I figured the destruction of NC State would be the best pick, since it is typically the Thanksgiving weekend match-up:
Sweet Potato Casserole - R.J. Davis
This Thanksgiving side tastes like a dessert, but it comes on the same plate as the main course. Every savory taste is balanced by something sweet. If Garrison Brooks and the Carolina posts are savory, then the guards are sweet. And nothing is sweeter than having a small, quick, ball-handling point guard that can produce on the offensive end. Roy Williams’s three national title teams all had point guards no taller than 6’1” (Raymond Felton is 6’1”, Ty Lawson is 5’11”, and Joel Berry was listed at 6’0”... I’m skeptical.)
I’m also haunted by the memory of small guards that have had career performances against the Tar Heels. Tyrese Rice from Boston College. Shane Larkin from Miami. and Brandon Childress from Wake Forest are just a few examples off the top of my head. It’ll be nice to see Carolina get some of that short magic back with R.J. Davis, the 6’0” point guard from New York. Watch him cook:
Pumpkin Pie - British Brooks
After a plate or two of turkey with all the fixings, you’re usually ready to pass out on the couch and watch some football. But there’s one thing left, and no matter how full you are, you always seem to have a little room left to enjoy at least one piece:
Pumpkin pie is an understated but fitting end to a fabulous meal. For the final course of Thanksgiving, I’m going with back-up running back British Brooks. Brooks usually doesn’t see much of the field until the contest is decided. His fourth quarter cameos are the pumpkin pie of UNC football games.
Part of that is just the misfortune of being on the same depth chart as two all-conference talents. But he is no less ferocious than his two teammates. Ask NC State cornerback Malik Dunlap:
Dunlap is no chump. He is a 6’4” 220 pound defender. He’s got four inches and 20 pounds on British Brooks. But as you could see from the first highlight of the above Tweet, Brooks put Dunlap right on his bottom.
Feel free to add dishes in the comments below. I hope that y’all enjoy the games and stay safe and healthy! Happy Thanksgiving!