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UNC vs. Georgia State: Three Things Learned

The Tar Heels cruised to an (eventually) easy win over Georgia State in their first home game of the season.

Georgia State v North Carolina Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

After a questionable start, the Tar Heels dominated in their 59-17 win over Georgia State. Sam Howell did a lot of awesome Sam Howell things in this one, and somehow even managed to become the best running back on the team. He finished the game completing 21 of his 29 passes for 352 yards, three touchdowns, zero interceptions, and ran the ball 11 times for 104 yards and two touchdowns.

Howell’s excellent performance aside, there are a few key takeaways from this one. Let’s go ahead and discuss the three things we learned from last night’s win.

The enigmatic run defense

Now that we are two games into the season, I can officially say that I am not completely sure what to think of Jay Bateman’s plan for this year’s team. More specifically, the run defense so far has struggled — in last night’s game against the Panthers, UNC allowed 181 yards on the ground. The most logical explanation for the struggles is that the option scheme was making Bateman hesitant to call some of the plays that he could’ve called, but one has to wonder why it’s still taking so long for adjustments to be made during the game.

In the first two quarters, UNC was seen pressuring with three or four players most of the time. Every now and then, we would see a few extra guys attacking the ball carrier, and it worked…sometimes. It seemed like things were looking much better in the third quarter, with the Heels only surrendering five rushing yards. However, in the fourth quarter Georgia State ran for 75 yards, which may or may not be because the outcome of the game was decided. Either way, the team needs to figure out how to become more of a force when defending the run, because there are enough teams left on the schedule that would love nothing more than happy to run all over the defense.

Our starting running back should be…?

Let’s get this out of the way first: I still have a lot of questions about the offensive line. Last night Sam Howell found himself scrambling outside of the pocket a lot, and it’s nothing short of a miracle that he wasn’t sacked more than twice.

With that said, the Heels’ running backs have been more or less disappointing so far. We all knew that Javonte Williams and Michael Carter weren’t walking back into Kenan Stadium, but Ty Chandler struggled to get much momentum against Georgia State. He finished the game with 15 carries for 58 yards and a touchdown. While I would likely have to go back and re-watch the game, it seems to me like Chandler has a problem finding space when it’s not right in front of him, which led to him a lot of the time running directly into defenders for short yardage. Once again, this could be an o-line issue, but I still don’t get the best feeling from what I’ve seen from him so far.

If I’m being honest, the best running back last night was…Sam Howell. My best argument to be made against the running backs is that Howell went off for 104 yards on 11 carries/scrambles against Georgia State’s defense. It always has to be taken with a grain of salt when quarterbacks do things like that, but it’s worth noting that Howell managed to get through their front seven on numerous occasions right up the middle. There’s still a lot of season left, but Mack Brown really needs to find a running back that is going to give him solid, consistent production, or else I feel a lot less confident about their chances of coming out of the regular season with a Coastal division championship.

Josh Downs finally has some help

Following the loss against Virginia Tech, the biggest concern that I had was that Sam Howell didn’t have anybody he could reliably throw the ball to except Josh Downs. Last night we were reassured that there are some solid hands on the team, as Antoine Green, Emery Simmons, and Kamari Morales all had a good night against the Panthers. Morales saw a lot of time on the field at the beginning of the game in place of Garrett Walston, and he took advantage of every snap. He finished the game with four catches for 42 yards, and caught each ball that was thrown to him. I’m hoping that we see more of him moving forward, but it may depend on how well he is able to help block in the run game.

When it comes to Antoine Green and Emery Simmons, they both caught a number of deep passes from Howell. The duo combined for 190 receiving yards and two touchdowns, easily eclipsing Josh Downs’ eight catches for 73 yards and a touchdown. Make no mistake, though, Downs was exceptional once again last night. The more that I’ve gotten to watch him play, the more that I am convinced that he not only a star receiver, but will likely be a high NFL Draft pick next season. It was a lot of fun seeing these guys ball out, but now the question is whether or not they can do it again against Virginia next week. Stay tuned to find out.