The Tar Heels will take on the Georgia State Panthers in the second road game of the young 2022 season. As we all know, the Heels are coming off of a crazy 63-61 road win against App State thanks to an extremely good offensive performance by Drake Maye & Co. Now the team has a chance to redeem themselves in Atlanta, but will the defense be able to figure things out? Also, will the offense be able to continue their excellent play? We can only hope, otherwise UNC will have to come home next weekend with a 2-1 record and Notre Dame waiting for them. Oof.
Without further delay, let’s jump into the three things to keep an eye on this Saturday.
Is an offensive regression on the horizon?
I know that after two stellar performances by the offense, it is hard to imagine that they could take many (if any) steps backwards going into the game against the Panthers. However, during yesterday’s press conference Mack Brown gave everyone a reason to not only temper expectations, but to be prepared for a bad performance from the offense as soon as Saturday.
“I don’t think the offense has looked as sharp this week as they have the previous two weeks. … You worry that they’ve been bragged on so much that they’ll be complacent, and there’s a bad game coming. That happened to us last year.”
Sounds like coach talk, right? How many times have we heard comments like this from Roy Williams, Hubert Davis, and Mack Brown? However, the problem is that usually when they make these comments there is absolutely a shred of truth in there. What a “bad game” for UNC’s best group looks like is anybody’s guess: totaling 567 yards and eight touchdowns leaves a lot of room between elite and abysmal. A couple of things that Brown did point out is that they allowed more sacks than they should have, and they also could’ve gotten more done in the ground game. The way Drake Maye is playing makes it hard for me to believe that things could be catastrophic against Georgia State, but if they look a bit more human coming off of some bad practices...don’t be surprised.
Making the second and third quarter against App State the norm
Another person that was available to the press this week is UNC defensive back Cam Kelly. During his comments to the media, he said something that honestly went completely overlooked due to how poorly the group played during the first and fourth quarters of the game against the Mountaineers: they played pretty well in the second and third quarter. During that timeframe, App State was held to one touchdown, 121 total yards, and Cedric Gray recorded an interception. Obviously the first and last quarters were really bad, but that shouldn’t completely take away from the fact that potential showed up to the game last Saturday, it just didn’t stay as long as we would’ve liked.
As far as what the issue with the defense actually is, it sounds like everyone has their own story. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik stated that he watched the game multiple times and noticed a little bit of everything: bad tackling, bad pursuit angles, players being in the wrong position, etc. The way Cam Kelly tells it, he felt as though the defense got complacent when the game was seemingly decided. Whatever the issue(s) may be, they have to perform better against the Panthers Saturday, or else I fear it will be too late to correct things before the Irish get to Chapel Hill.
Will we see Josh Downs this weekend?
UNC’s star receiver missed the game against App State after he injured his knee catching a touchdown against FAMU. While his absence didn’t appear to effect Drake Maye’s ability to produce, the Heels are going to need him back sooner rather than later. It does sound like it is not a severe injury, as UNC has Downs listed as a “game-time decision” for the Georgia State game.
Per UNC: Josh Downs, Spencer Rolland, and Caleb Hood will be monitored during the week and will be game time decisions Saturday at Georgia State.— Tar Heel Illustrated (@HeelIllustrated) September 5, 2022
While we once again don’t know how realistically bad practices have been for the Heels offense, Downs would certainly help the situation against the Panthers. What Mack Brown will want to be careful of doing, however, is bringing Downs back too early and potentially re-aggravating his knee. It’s a fine line to walk when the choices are to play him against the Panthers, or rest him to give him a better shot to play against Notre Dame. I can see Downs suiting up but only playing if needed, but we will wait and see what Brown has in mind.