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UNC Football vs. Wofford: Three Things Learned

Carolina is bowl eligible for the third year in a row, but there are more questions than answers as focus turns to NC State.

Wofford v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

Senior Day at Kenan Stadium against a woeful and injury riddled Wofford was only going to end one way. Carolina took care of business, even if the margin of victory was relatively modest, considering the level of competition. Here’s what we learned as the Tar Heels secured bowl eligibility for the third year in a row.

Quarterback competition far from settled

Jacolby Criswell was the starter with Sam Howell in street clothes and played the entire first half. He looked as advertised: strong in the run and competent (if unspectacular) in the pass. Criswell looked comfortable enough in a fairly vanilla offensive gameplan -- no need to put anything fancy on tape for NC State -- and moved the offense without turning the ball over.

Drake Maye looked good in his first real action, and in a completely different way. UNC looked to throw the ball down the field more with the 6’5” freshman quarterback, who like me when I throw with my nieces and nephews, had to be careful to throw the ball down some to get it in the basket for receivers like Josh Downs (<5’11”). He also had some nice touch throws downfield, like this long gain to JJ Jones:

Should Sam Howell sit out the bowl game, Mack Brown will have 15 additional practices to see if Criswell or Maye separates enough from the other to become the unquestioned starter, if if Carolina will go into the 2022 season with a split QB problem, like he did with Chris Simms and Major Applewhite at Texas. If Criswell doesn’t win the job, there are concerns about him transferring out, as well. This situation will be closely monitored throughout bowl preparation, and into summer practice.

Ty Chandler rested for NC State

Chandler did his work early, and was shut down after just a quarter of action. Mack Brown opted to rest his star running back with an eye on Black Friday, as there was no need to risk a fluke injury against Wofford. British Brooks took care of the rest of game, rushing for two touchdowns.

As it stood, UNC did not escape Senior Day without any injuries. Ja’Qurious Conley was hurt on the opening kickoff (on replay, his knee looks like it bent the wrong way) and did not return for the rest of the game. Back-up running back D.J. Jones was also knocked out of the game in the first half.

Chandler looked dynamic in the his two series of actions, running for gains of 16, 13, 13, 19, and 11 yards, and adding an 8-yard catch. If he maintains this form and shows his big play ability against the Wolfpack, it will take a ton of pressure off of Sam Howell to call his own number and minimize risk to exacerbating his injury.

Defense plays well without overly impressing

Wofford made the switch from a pure triple-option to a hybrid RPO, but their offense is heavily tilted towards the run. The Terriers ran 45 times (for 209 yards) and only passed 10 times (for eight completions and 93 yards). Quarterback Peyton Derrick did not look like he would dissect the Carolina secondary, and was indeed picked off by Kyler McMichael.

Without a lot of pass attempts, I’ll give the defense a pass for not registering a sack (something that they’ll need to do against NCSU, if they go pass-happy like they did against Wake Forest).

Wofford was 2/2 on fourth down plays. This is more worrying. NC State has a lot more beef on their O-line, and if it’s 3rd & 3, I see a lot of drives extending into the “12-plays and a touchdown” type that wear out a defense. If Howell is less than 100% and can’t hold serve, it gives NC State a chance to not get blown out by Carolina for the first time in the Mack 2.0 era.