The North Carolina Tar Heels found a thousand ways to lose that game in the fourth quarter but somehow pulled out the two-point victory in a track meet in Boone.
There were three parts to this game:
- The game until Appalachian State missed their field goal;
- The game after the missed field goal through the third quarter;
- The game in the fourth quarter.
Watching this game was like riding The Hurler at Carowinds. Catching some air by going up and down, jarring from side to side, going real fast, and feeling kinda nauseous by the end of it.
Many of the same feelings were felt while trying to determine a letter grade throughout the course of this wild game.
Until he lost that fumble, Drake Maye was a solid A for this game. He completed two-thirds of his passes, going 24-36 for 352 yards.
There were two concerns for Maye heading into this game:
- He was without wide receiver Josh Downs;
- First collegiate start on the road (and what a helluva atmosphere).
Maye was cool and composed throughout the game. For most of the game, he made great reads and did not hang onto the ball too long.
On most throws, he put the ball into a tight window that only a Carolina receiver could catch. In the fourth quarter, there were a couple of errant throws, but overall his accuracy is something that should make Tar Heels very excited.
Maye tallied 76 yards rushing on 12 attempts. His rushing touchdown to start the second half was the type of play that should have been a dagger in a normal football game.
Maye’s fumble was costly. It came just one snap after App State just scored for the first time in the second half. He did not protect the ball and it was easy pickins’ for the Mountaineers. App scored just three players later to bring the game within six points.
Running Backs: B
Omarion Hampton led all running backs with eight carries, while Caleb Hood and George Pettaway each had six.
While he had two carries, DJ Jones made his greatest impact on the game through his 42-yard touchdown reception. Maye made a great play to stay in the pocket with the blitz, and Jones was able to bring it in and handle the rest.
There were flashes of greatness with the running game, highlighted by Hood’s 71-yard almost-touchdown run.
It seems as though there are more concerns with the run blocking on the offensive line than with the ability of the running backs to make plays.
Head coach Mack Brown said after the game that with all the players capable of contributing, it will be the “hot hand” who is in at running back. That was certainly on display on Saturday.
As mentioned above, the loss of Preseason All-American Josh Downs was a major concern for Tar Heels in Boone and across the state.
But the receivers and tight ends stepped up in a big way today.
Kobe Paysour was Maye’s top target with eight receptions, 92 yards, and a touchdown. He caught each of his targeted passes on Saturday.
JJ Jones was second on the team with four receptions and 69 yards, and also added a touchdown.
The touchdown receptions by Paysour and Jones were the first of their careers.
Tight ends Bryson Nesbit and Kamari Morales were also solid targets for Maye, as each tallied three receptions.
The receivers consistently created space in the defensive secondary. Maye threw into tight windows, but the receivers did their part in building those windows.
Carolina had 10 passing plays of 15 yards or more, including two touchdowns. This will be a trend to watch as Maye gets more reps in this offense.
In the fourth quarter, there were a couple of drops on the same drive with Morales and Jones, but this was not an issue by and large.
Offensive Line: C
On one hand, the pass protection was good for most of the game. Maye had enough time to make reads and get the ball out.
Yet, the official stat from yesterday was three sacks and three hurries. Just by the feel of the game, it did not seem as if the pass protection was as poor as we have seen in recent memory.
The run block, however, was a different story. The offensive line just did not consistently get the push it needed for the running backs to make things happen.
Without Hood’s 71-yard run, he has 16 yards on five carries. Without Pettaway’s 21-yard touchdown run, he has 13 yards on five carries. And Hampton’s rushing average was just 2.1 yards a carry.
Defensive Line: D
At the beginning of the game, there seemed to be a good push and solid pressure by the defensive line. Des Evans was making an impact early, so much so that App was basing run direction opposite of where he was lined up.
Ray Vohasek did his thing in the middle on run defense. With the lack of running success in the middle, the Mountaineers focused their efforts outside of the tackles.
However, it is critical to note that Appalachian State rushed six times on third down, and they gained 82 total yards. Four of their six third down conversions came on the ground.
UNC tallied just one sack and one hurry the entire game. On paper, Carolina had the height and weight advantage on the line. However, they just simply did not do enough on passing plays to make an impact on the game.
The only reason the linebackers are rated as high as this is because of Cedric Gray’s third quarter.
Early in the game, the linebackers were nonexistent. One reason is that the defense was playing with more defensive backs and either one or no linebackers.
The other is that when they were in, it did not make a difference.
Gray stepped up to be the leading tackler in this game and snatched a third quarter interception that would have been a back-breaking play in any other game.
For most of the game, App State found success rushing outside the tackles and throwing into the flats. Only briefly did the linebackers make the necessary plays in that part of the field.
There needs to be continued work on zone coverage and pursuit because this will certainly be a weakness that will continue to be exploited by opponents.
Blown coverage. Poor tackling. Terrible decision-making.
For all of the great talent in the secondary, this was such a disappointing effort by this group.
UNC allowed the big play over and over again yesterday. There were 12 passing plays of over 15 yards, totaling 301 yards.
There were six passing touchdown scores to go with just one (1!) official pass breakup for the entire game.
The secondary collapsed in the fourth quarter and allowed this game to stay close.
Special Teams: C+
The good news is that Noah Burnette nailed both of his field goal attempts at 44 and 47 yards and Ben Kiernan had punts of 42 and 50 yards.
The bad news is App State returned a punt of 18 yards and a kickoff of 47 yards.
And even though Nesbit’s onside kick touchdown is tallied as a kick return touchdown, the lack of time taken off the clock allowed the Mountaineers to come right back down the field for another touchdown.
On one side of the ball, it is clear that the offense can plug and play with different weapons. The concerns about Downs’s absence were short-lived and actually provided hope for what this offense could be when Downs is back in the lineup.
On the other side, defensive adjustments were made and were working for a while. However, the exponential regression in the fourth quarter is mind-boggling and unacceptable.
Practice should be interesting this week, to say the least.