If you are reading this article, there is a very real chance that UNC will take on South Carolina in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl in Charlotte, NC. There’s an equal chance that the game may be canceled because one of the teams had a bunch of players test positive for COVID-19, and everything is on fire. I truly don’t remember the last time that the Heels (football team) faced such an important Schrodinger’s Cat type situation, but that seems to be every single team in every single league these days. It’s frustrating, it’s exhausting, but ultimately, it is what it is.
Anyways, let’s talk football. In Sam Howell’s final game as a Tar Heel, the team is favored by 9.5 points against the Gamecocks. If we’re looking at what each team has done offensively this season, there’s a very real chance that the Heels cover and then some. The Heels averaged 36.4 points per game during the regular season, while the Gamecocks only averaged 21.3. The kicker is that UNC allowed an average of 31.6 while South Carolina allowed 24.3, so this will likely come down to how well the Gamecocks can contain Sam Howell. With that said, here are three things to keep an eye on in tomorrow’s game.
Will British Brooks finish strong?
While Ty Chandler will almost certainly see action in tomorrow’s game, I personally would like to see if British Brooks is able to repeat his 124-yard performance that he had against NC State. That was the best that Brooks has looked all season, and it wasn’t a performance that came out of nowhere: against Wofford, he finished with seven carries for 89 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Simply put: Brooks has been on a roll, and what better of a way to finish out his senior season than by bowling over the Gamecocks.
What would likely hinder Brooks’ production in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl is Phil Longo deciding to give a majority of the snaps to Ty Chandler. I really struggle to see why Longo wouldn’t have both backs split time in the backfield, but it could be a situation where he decides to play whoever has the hottest hand. I feel like there isn’t necessarily a wrong answer when it comes to who to go to, which would’ve been nice problem to have during the majority of the 2021 season. Again: I would like to see Brooks get a lot more burn, but we will see if Ty Chandler can steal the spotlight.
Which Gamecock will stand out against UNC’s defense?
Let’s admit it: by now we know to expect that one guy on the opposing team’s offense to shred the Heels’ defense. It feels like a tale as old as time, with the most recent example being NC State wide receiver Emeka Emezie. The good news is that South Carolina doesn’t really have “that guy” on their roster, so it seems as though the Heels’ defense may catch a break. The bad news? We’ve learned to never trust previous stat lines, and undoubtedly there will be someone that has a world-beating performance…because reasons.
Considering the fact that UNC’s biggest weakness is stopping the run, my attention has gone to Zaquandre White. He didn’t do anything spectacular in the regular season, but he had a solid 99-yard performance against Auburn. He also broke loose for 111 yards against Florida, who spent a good amount of the season ranked in the top 25. South Carolina doesn’t really have a mobile quarterback that should present much of a threat, so my attention is going to White if I’m Jay Bateman, and ideally UNC’s secondary will take care of the rest.
Sam Howell’s last ride
Though he hasn’t officially announced it yet, Sam Howell is likely declaring for the NFL Draft following the Duke’s Mayo Bowl. He just graduated this winter, which is a bad sign for any Tar Heel fan that was holding out hope that maybe he’d stay. Because of this, however, I have a feeling that he will do everything in his power to go out on a high note against South Carolina. Perhaps he needs no more motivation than his 147-yard passing performance against NC State.
Auburn aside, South Carolina hasn’t had the most impressive résumé when it comes to their defense. Sure, the numbers that I mentioned at the beginning of this article exist, but it’s also worth noting that some of the teams they held to their average or lower are Eastern Illinois, East Carolina, Kentucky, Troy, Vanderbilt, Florida, and Auburn. Not exactly a list that inspires confidence that they will do the same against Sam Howell, which is why I feel like this game is set up for him to have a monster finale.
If Howell is going to finish his UNC career as a Duke’s Mayo Bowl champion, his receivers will have to do their part. Josh Downs will likely get a lot of attention from the Gamecocks’ defense, so Justin Olson, Antoine Green, and Kamari Morales will have to step up. NFL scouts will almost certainly be at the game, and it would be a fantastic late Christmas gift to their star quarterback to help him leave everything out onto the field and help him secure a first-round draft spot.