In the season opener against South Carolina, British Brooks made his long awaited return to the football field after exploding in the Duke’s Mayo Bowl and then suffering a knee injury that cost him the 2022 season. His hard work earned him the starting nod at running back, and he repaid Mack Brown’s faith with 103 rushing yards on 15 carries and 18 receiving yards on three catches.
Before the App State game, it was announced that Brooks was likely out of the game with a lower-body injury:
Official from #UNC: OL Ed Montilus out with a lower-body injury, RB British Brooks doubtful with a lower-body injury.— Michael Koh (@michaelkohwchl) September 9, 2023
With heavy rain in the forecast, Carolina needed to ensure someone could gain yards on the ground if passing and catching became untenable.
Sophomore Omarion Hampton answered the call. He was an absolute beast, smashing into App State defenders, grinding YAC, falling forward for first downs, and otherwise ensuring the Mountaineers would need a few beers and painkillers on the bus ride home.
Hampton won the head-to-head match up with superb tailback Nate Noel. They both carried the ball 26 times, but Hampton rushed for 234 yards (+107) and three touchdowns (+1). If you subtract Hampton’s 68-yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter, he only averaged 6.6 ypc, outstanding in it’s own right. He ended the night with a 9 ypc average, insane!
Hampton punished defenders in a way Carolina fans haven’t seen since Javonte Williams was crushing anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. He also seemed to get stronger as the night went on, evidenced by this touchdown stretch in the fourth quarter:
Drake Maye and the offense haven’t quite taken off yet, as the receiving corps figures out the best versions of themselves without Tez Walker leading them as expected. If the Tar Heels can rely on the prominent one-two punch of British Brooks and Omarion Hampton on the ground, these fears won’t look so dire. For now.