Let’s get this out of the way first- the North Carolina Tar Heels are 25-point favorites over Georgia State. If UNC struggles this weekend, next week’s articles will take a different tone.
Working under the assumption that Carolina lives up to that three touchdown billing against their Sun Belt opponents, here are three things to watch against Georgia State.
Simply put, the UNC offensive line was dominated last Friday against Virginia Tech. The absence of center Brian Anderson necessitated changes on the offensive line. Against the Hokies, Quiron Johnson made his second career start at center, Joshua Ezeudu was moved to left tackle, and Asim Richards went to left guard.
Head coach Mack Brown took responsibility for the change and the results:
With Brian Anderson out we were not the same. We had miscommunication on the offensive line. We moved Asim Richards in and then he and Q had not worked together as much, so we had some miscommunication issues. And we thought Virginia Tech’s crowd was a factor. They did a super job in making it hard to hear... Q had only played offensive center one time and I was the reason we moved Josh to tackle and Asim Richards to guard a couple of weeks ago. We thought Brian was going to play and then they hadn’t worked together as much and it was really loud. We’ll probably go back and move Josh inside and Asim back outside until at least Brian gets back because I think that was part of the communication issues. That is my fault.
With Ezeudu and Richards moving back to their normal positions, it should help rebuild their confidence after a tough game. Anderson was dressed on Friday, but was held out because of his nagging injuries. Does Anderson play on Saturday to get live action reps? Or will he sit another week because of the opponent and upcoming schedule?
If you were told before the game Friday that Virginia Tech would only score 17 points and gain just 93 total yards in the second half, the champagne for a Carolina victory would be uncorked.
In the first quarter against VT, the defense allowed a touchdown and 131 total yards. Over the next three quarters, Carolina allowed 10 points and only 165 yards. Led by the play of Ja’Qurious Conley, the defense improved as the night went on. Defensive coordinator Jay Bateman in the coordinators press conference on Monday pointed to how important it was for UNC put a lot of defensive players on the field throughout the game:
I didn’t want to get into a situation where, especially when things weren’t going great early, it’s easy, I think, at that point to say, put the starters back in. But we trust those kids, those kids have worked really hard, the kids that maybe don’t start the game. And I said, “look, in the fourth quarter, we’re gonna need these guys.” And I think we were more frustrating in the fourth quarter than the opponent. And I think that helped us.
Quality depth is such a breath of fresh air for Carolina football fans, and the confidence the coaching staff has in the younger players on defense is reassuring for late game situations and inevitable injuries.
Expect the defense to keep the rotation going against Georgia State, and even more players may hit the field Saturday night.
Live Action Reps for the Offense
You have to flip the calendar back to 2014 for the last “cream puff” opener for Carolina. In the past seven season openers, UNC has faced off against an ACC opponent or a school from a P5 conference.
Shifts in the offensive line, new personnel in skilled positions, and the first sold out road game since 2019 was a bad combination for the Tar Heels.
Although it is a tough pill to swallow for any proud sports fan, one of those cream puff games could have really benefited a team with talent and inexperience, if just for building some experience with each other in live-action situations. But, as the old sports mantra goes, you learn more about your team from losses than victories.
One item learned from the Virginia Tech game is that Sam Howell was not in the same rhythm as we have grown accustomed to. The Hokies played a major part in that, but getting Howell comfortable with his new receiving targets is an important piece in offensive success this season.
Brown, in his radio show, spoke on this topic:
We had timing with obviously Dyami, Beau Corrales, and Dazz Newsome for the two years we’ve been here, so I really think it’s just timing. I was worried about that in spring practice. I was worried in preseason. We’ve got to work to make sure that we get him three to five guys he’s comfortable with. We’ve got to make sure that we’re running the proper routes for these guys to make sure they get open because Sam’s having to run too much. And we’ve got one of the best quarterbacks in the country. We’ve got to utilize him, but we also need to get the ball to our backs more in and out of the backfield. We did that a lot last year and I didn’t think we did any of that as well Friday night as we needed to.
Not only can UNC have another shot to build experience between Howell and the skilled players on offense, the team has an opportunity to rebuild some confidence after a dismal performance last week.