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UNC vs. Florida A&M: Three Things to Watch

Finally, it’s time for actual games.

North Carolina Spring Game Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images

We made it! Two days from now, we will be looking into a lit up Kenan Stadium as the Tar Heels get to open up the 2022 football season with a week 0 tilt against Florida A&M. It’s about at this point where we say “All of our questions will be answered...” or “We’ll finally have some insight into how the changes have worked.”

The fact is, we probably won’t.

The 2022 schedule was figured out well before Mack Brown was hired as the head coach, and there was no way to foresee that a season-opening game against Appalachian State in Boone would be the game that would welcome a brand new starting quarterback when it was made. Mack Brown saw this, though, and scheduled this week 0 tilt to help work some things out. With the level of competition Florida A&M will bring, what to look for will be a little different than if this was an ACC opener. With that in mind, here’s what you should be watching for on Saturday.

The offensive backfield competitions

It’s easier here to lump the log game of running backs as well as the quarterback debate into one spot here. On Monday, Mack Brown took great care to say that Drake Maye and D.J. Jones will “run out” first on the field when the Tar Heels take the ball on offense. Jones won the job almost by default, simply because he’s the most experienced back that’s been the healthiest through the spring and the summer, but he won’t be the only one to touch the ball. Maye, meanwhile, takes the snaps despite having one year less in the Phil Longo system as opposed to Criswell. Brown refused to say why he chose one to “run out first” over the other, clearly looking to make sure Criswell is ready to jump in as needed.

The game against FAMU here is going to be similar as the game against Wofford last season: a chance to try different players in different sets against a team that they haven’t been practicing against for months on end. In short, expect Criswell to get some snaps no matter how well Maye does, but how well Maye does will likely affect when Criswell comes in. If Maye explodes to start and the Tar Heels already have a 30+ point lead, he may not see the field as Brown wants to see the team start to embrace one man as the starter. If, however, Maye struggles Criswell will likely see a series before the first quarter is over.

The running backs may not be as talked about but there is a lot more unknown there. With British Brooks injured for the year, two of the more experienced running backs in Elijiah Green and Caleb Hood would expect to have gotten more time, except they’ve been battling injuries. So they’ll be battling for snaps along with Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway. Considering the lack of depth at receiver, you may even see some two back sets to try and open up the options for Maye and Criswell. It’s much more likely that we won’t have that many answers for either position after this game, but at least fans will be able to see things with their own eyes now instead of just relying on what the coaches see.

De-fense (clap clap) De-fense (clap clap)

Fans will get their first real look at this version of the Gene Chizik defense as it tries to merge the talent on the field with results. Brandon spelled it out well in his defensive line preview, in that Chizik came in and put a lot of guys in their natural positions, as well as took the stress off the secondary to make play calls in the Jay Bateman system. We’ll also get our first looks at stud Travis Shaw, and in general get to see how a very young Carolina defense has adjusted to a different coaching set up.

With a schedule that’s going to see some of the best quarterbacks in the country down the road, getting off to a good start now will be key for this group. The hope here is that with a more “traditional” style of defense, this side of the ball will see a 2015-like jump to at least “decent” instead of the “bottom third of the FBS” they were last year. Getting some good momentum against the Rattlers’ offense will be key as next week the environment will be a lot less friendly.

The Florida A&M Marching 100

Look, I fully admit this is the band nerd in me coming out but in truth, everyone should be excited about the fact that one of, if not the best, HBCU marching band is going to make the trip up to Chapel Hill and will be heard throughout the day. There’s already been a confirmation that they’ll be part of the pre game ceremonies, and they’ll also have a halftime performance as well. It’s not known if they’ll pull the same thing as the NC A&T band a few years ago and play with the Marching Tar Heels at the same time, but either way they will be heard.

Michael already went down the YouTube hole finding Marching 100 videos to give you a preview of what fans are in for, and the hope here is that the expense wouldn’t have been paid to get this group up to Kenan to just have them play a couple of songs on the field. The full pre game and halftime shows probably won’t be shown by the ACC Network, and due to copyright issues it’s completely possible the video of the shows may not appear on YouTube, either. This means the best way to see it all is to be in your seats for both.

I’ll be there and soaking in the start of the 2022 football season. Hope to see you there!