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UNC vs. Florida A&M: Three Things Learned

Will this team play like we predicted in the offseason? Probably not. Will they at least be entertaining? Absolutely!

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: AUG 27 Florida A&M at North Carolina Photo by Nicholas Faulkner/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

My oh my! After all of the turmoil that Florida A&M’s football team experienced on their way to the airport, Week Zero in Chapel Hill actually happened and it was a sight to behold. Carolina, eager to move into the next chapter of the Mack Brown 2.0 era figured to have an improved defense coax the team along until new starting quarterback Drake Maye was ready to take over the team.

Except, opposite.

The defense had trouble against an undermanned Florida A&M and gave up yards in chunks, and scores through the air. But there is an abundance of young talent in the backfield, and a newfound interest in pass-catching tight ends. Here are three things learned from the win over FAMU.

Freshmen step up

Maybe not all is lost with British Brooks out for the season?

Earlier in the week, I expressed mild surprise that D.J. Jones was announced as the starting running back when Mack Brown announced the initial depth chart. The starting nod was more ceremonial than instructive the way the quarterback position is. Phil Longo essentially employed a spaghetti strategy: he threw them all on the wall to see what would stick. Each running back got a series to show what they could do. D.J. Jones ran five times for ten yards.

Freshmen Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway did a little better than that. Hampton was a revelation with 14 attempts, 101 yards, and two touchdowns. The first came immediately after Drake Maye’s helicopter dive into the endzone was ruled out of bounds, and Hampton cashed in on the next play for a two-yard run off tackle.

The second was more memorable:

George Pettaway was the fourth running back to get called into action, but he was the second most effective (with the game result still in doubt, Elijah Green’s 69 yards came on the last drive when the game was beyond reach). His speed and shiftiness are going to be a problem for defenders in space:

The future should be bright with Hampton and Pettaway. A reminder to Tar Heel fans: they are true freshmen. They could end up being more special than Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. All they need is water and sunshine.

Defense not dominant

A lot of the talk this offseason has been about how the defense is due to take a big step up. Four and five star recruits are now in year two and three in the program. Gene Chizik is back and simplified the defense to let the players react and make plays.

Well, what did they accomplish against FAMU?

The Tar Heels recorded only three sacks against a team with eight serviceable offensive linemen. Noah Taylor’s first quarter sack was a good one. Power Echols came off a blitz for his. Kaimon Rucker’s came later in the game when the contest was decided and FAMU’s line was gassed.

Will this pass muster against App State? Virginia Tech? Miami? UNC must generate more pressure. They also have to be disciplined. Super senior Ray Vohasek had a critical offsides when the Rattlers were looking to draw someone on a fourth down. Carolina can’t have that from a veteran leader.

Tight ends getting more love?

Sam Howell didn’t really get his tight ends into the mix as much as his other weapons during his stay in Chapel Hill. You can’t really blame him. His receivers during his freshman and sophomore campaigns were top quality, and in his junior season he fixated on Josh Downs.

Drake Maye almost seemed to have this in mind as he threw touchdown strikes to Kamari Morales and Bryson Nesbit—both on seam routes—for UNC’s first two touchdowns. Even John Copenhaver should have had a TD when Maye hit him square in the hands on a rollout. Copenhaver would have to settle for 44 yards on two catches.

If the tight ends can keep up this kind of production into ACC-play, it will be a tremendous release valve for Maye, take some coverage off of Downs in the slot, and will give opponents more looks to have to contend with when Carolina comes to town. Nothing but good things can come from this added emphasis on tight end playmaking.