Carolina’s final margin of victory over hapless Duke belies some worrying displays from Sam Howell and the Tar Heel offense. Fortunately, UNC’s defense was stout, and if not for a brave play to open the second half (more on that later), the Blue Devils could have been shut out of the game entirely.
So the Heels are back to winning ways in the “easiest” part of their schedule. That’s good. But there are still serious kinks to work out. Not so good. Let’s get into our winners, losers, and honorable mentions from the Victory Bell victory.
Ty Chandler: It looks like the Tennessee transfer running back will be feast or famine going forward. After he tore the roof off Kenan Stadium in the win over Virginia, Chandler looked bottled up against a tough Georgia Tech defense in Atlanta. Despite fewer carries than last week, he busted out for 53 yards rushing (with a touchdown) and 87 yards receiving on just two receptions, including a 75-yard touchdown catch.
The Blue Devils were still getting penetration against Carolina’s offensive line, but Chandler looks like he’s starting to sync up with them, and is finding the room he needs to make plays. Getting Chandler going is crucial to Carolina’s success for two reasons. 1.) His running will help the Heels control the clock in a close game they’re trying to hold on to and 2.) it may take carries away from Sam Howell on designed-runs. Too many more of those, and he might explode.
Josh Downs: Duh. And there’s nothing I can write that’s any better than what Matt said yesterday.
Secondary: Ja’Qurious Conley was moved back up to nickel, where he could impact more plays with his quickness and physicality. He ended up tied for second in team tackles with six (4 solo) and many of them were of the dump truck hitting a brick wall variety.
Cam’Ron Kelly led the team in tackles with seven, and had a great interception in the second half to get Howell and the offense the ball back with good field position, in a period of the game that the offense struggled to get traction.
Trey Morrison had his most impactful game since Boston College last season. He also had six tackles, including a bone-crunching stuff on third down as Duke quarterback Gunnar Holmberg attempted to run for the first. He did not succeed, but instead seemed to get folded into himself like a Popple.
Take away Jalon Calhoun’s 80-yard touchdown catch to open the second half, and the Heels held Duke to 104 yards passing. That’s. Not. Bad.
Garrett Walston’s gloves: He did not wear them in the first quarter. What’s up with that? Better question, why did he bobble and drop an easy pass from Howell in the second quarter?
One thing is for certain, he cannot make simple mistakes like this with Kamari Morales showing his quality week after week. Morales had one more catch than the super senior (though with less yards) and grabbed another touchdown, his third straight game with one.
All receivers not named “Josh Downs”: Khafre Brown drew a big pass interference call. No catches. Emery Simmons and Antoine Green both had one catch for seven yards, despite seven total targets. Stephen Gosnell had one catch for eight yards.
Josh Downs needs someone, anyone, to take the heat off of him in coverage. So far, it hasn’t been a problem. Against a stronger team, it could be catastrophic.
As a silver lining, this season Phil Longo seems to be making a concerted effort to get the tight end involved more (results may vary between Walston and Morales). Ty Chandler is also showing himself to be a highly competent receiver out of the backfield.
But this offense will really hum if somebody can take over the Dyami Brown role and take the top off of the defense on the outside go routes. Sam Howell loves throwing that pass, and incorporating it successfully will open up more space for Downs to explore the studio space on underneath routes.
Offensive Line: Guys... we’ve got to get a grip on this, before Sam gets broken in half. Five sacks. Ten tackles for loss. Some of Howell’s rushes for no yards were him barely escaping more sacks.
Ben Kiernan: After not playing at all in the win over Virginia, the Irish punter’s kicks helped the Tar Heels keep their foot on Duke’s throat. He punted seven times with a 43.7 yard average, and placed two kicks inside the 20. He also had a great golf chip-shot celebration on one of his kicks.
In a game against a team that Carolina can’t offensively go toe-to-toe with, Kiernan will be a key factor in winning the field position battle. With two more weeks of improvement on defense, who’s to say this can’t be the difference to beat Notre Dame in South Bend after the bye week? The key to UNC salvaging the season could be a player that honestly wasn’t needed for much of last season.
Gunnar Holmberg: The Duke quarterback had a rough day at the offense. He threw an 80-yard touchdown to open the second half for the Blue Devils’ only points of the afternoon. I want to give him a little credit here, because he took Ja’Qurious Conley’s shoulder directly to his gut on the throw, and he saw that it was coming. A lesser man would’ve flinched, but he took the hit like a man and was rewarded for it.
Though he did get replaced late in the game by Jordan Moore late in the fourth quarter as the game was out of reach.