For the first time all season, we can say some nice things about the North Carolina defense. Now, it’s hard to say they played great overall. They still gave up 419 yards total and 5.4 per play to Georgia State. However, they did step up and come up with some big plays in crunch time, causing the Panthers’ last four drives to all end with punts. Allowing to UNC to eventually rally past GSU for another win.
One of the big reasons they managed to defense was able to get things together was the play of Power Echols. The sophomore finished with a solid game statistically, putting up 10 tackles, including seven solo.
However, his efforts in this game go even beyond just his play on the field. In a defense that pretty badly needed one, Echols proved to be a leader and helped rally the whole unit.
“Power Echols just grabbed every single defensive guy and pulled them into a huddle”— Gregory Hall (@gregoryhall_) September 10, 2022
He did that while guys were arguing and yelling at each other, per the sideline reporter
After Ga. State staged a 25-0 run on Carolina, @PowerEchols (23) pulled the entire defense around him and delivered an impassioned talk that he concluded, “We will STILL win this football game.” Indeed, defense forced 4 straight punts & Tar Heels survived, 35-28. pic.twitter.com/zqaSWDvdJu— Lee Pace (@LeePaceTweet) September 10, 2022
At that point, UNC had fallen behind 28-21. After that moment, the Tar Heels rattled off 14-straight points to win the game and avoid a very annoying loss. Echols deserved a ton a credit for that, in addition to being one of the few solid defenders before the unit managed to get their act together.
On the offensive side of things, the main nominee was probably running back Omarion Hampton. He made a pretty bad mistake on special teams, fielding a kick return too deep in UNC return territory, leading to his momentum taking him out of bounds and pinning the Heels right in front of their own goal line. However, he was massive in the running game in the second half. For the whole game, he went for 110 yards on 16 carries, but 107 of those yards came in the second half, and he scored both of the touchdowns that allowed the Heels to turn the deficit into the lead.
Punter Ben Kiernan also had an excellent day, averaging 54.2 yards per punt including ones of 71 and 64 yards. The 71-yarder pinned GSU at the their own two.
Drake Maye had his worst game so far, but still put up some solid final numbers, going for 284 yards on 19-24 passing, with two touchdowns and an interception. The interception wasn’t great, but the fact that he can still put up those numbers and we’re left saying “meh, he could’ve been better” is a pretty good thing.
If the first three games of the season are anything to go on, UNC are going to be playing some wild games this season. At least in this one, we saw a proof of concept of a Tar Heel defender stepping up, like Power Echols did on Saturday.