On a rainy evening in Kenan Stadium, Tar Heels survived double overtime to put away Appalachian State 40-34. While there were a few positives that came out of this one, the overwhelming feeling is that UNC is a lot less polished than we thought they were. In fact, I would even venture to say that this is a team in progress, and that there is a LOT of work that needs to be done before they can be considered a legitimate ACC contender. What kind of work? Well, let’s talk about that.
Here are three things we learned from another unhinged, stressful, and downright cruel game against the Mountaineers.
Chip Lindsey needs to make some adjustments to his play-calling ASAP
When Phil Longo left the program, I had high hopes that Chip Lindsey would take over and help Drake Maye reach his peak potential. His would have an elite talent for his first season as offensive coordinator, so would make sense that he would highlight Maye’s strengths and even help take his game to the next level, right?
Instead, what we saw Saturday night was a lot of bizarre play-calling that felt like Lindsey hadn’t actually seen Maye play before. We saw a couple of unnecesary Wildcat calls, a lot of really short throws, and some bubble screens thrown in for good measure. There’s no doubt that what he likes to do with the offense involves helping the defense by milking the clock, but Maye’s strengths are underutilized on a criminal level. Eventually in the second half we would see Maye throw for some bigger plays, which funny enough turned the game around for the Heels. Funny how that works.
A bright spot in UNC’s offense last night was Omarion Hampton, who ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns. His rushing yard total is the most that any player has ran for in a home opener at Kenan. While the passing game left a lot on the table, Hampton had a few big plays that kept the Heels in the game.
Hampton’s performance aside, it’s clear that Mack Brown has a lot to work through with Lindsey before next week’s game against Minnesota. He even suggested as much during his post-game press conference last night:
#UNC HC Mack Brown: "The wildcat's not what I want on 4th and inches... it'll be put on the shelf in short-yardage."— Michael Koh (@michaelkohwchl) September 10, 2023
Ban the Wildcat, let Drake Maye cook, and maybe we will avoid more games like last night’s too-close-for-comfort victory.
Who is the real UNC defense?
Carolina’s defense received a lot of praise from local and national media after the win over South Carolina, and a number of people thought they would be able to repeat what they did when they faced off against the Mountaineers. What we got instead was a very different performance that while they still did some good things, looked a lot less potent than they did just a week ago.
After recording nine sacks against South Carolina, the Heels were not able to sack App State QB Joey Aguilar. One could argue that App State had a much better offensive line than the Gamecocks, but really it just felt like this group wasn’t clicking. They also let the Mountaineers run for 219 yards, which is a jarring number when comparing it to the -2 yards that South Carolina was able to gain. Then of course there was the third-down conversion issue — the Mountaineers were able to convert on third down eight times, which once again is jarring when the Gamecocks were only able to do it four times.
To be fair, all three games against App State had really wonky defensive stats that warranted burning a lot of tape. However, chalking it up to it just being another crazy game against App State is dangerous, and Gene Chizik needs to find a way to get his front seven to the quarterback next weekend.
UNC should stop playing App State
I know that our third lesson should be more analytical, but I need to get this off of my chest: I don’t want to play App State ever again. The three games between these two teams took at least 10 years off of my life, and I’m pretty convinced that Mountaineers fans feel the same way.
Just look at some of these numbers:
App State and North Carolina just wrapped up a 3-game series.— Bryan Ives (@awaytoworthy) September 10, 2023
APP: 509 pic.twitter.com/B0GxzHAckw
While I may just sound like a fan that doesn’t want competition against a really good in-state football team, it must be pointed out that Mack Brown is also glad that this series is over.
Mack Brown said he won't miss playing App State. Asked him if these kinds of games should continue, given the statewide interest. “It’s a great thing for the state of North Carolina to have (these games)," he said, "and I encourage N.C. State and East Carolina” to play them.— Andrew Carter (@_andrewcarter) September 10, 2023
Another really important comment that Brown made was that all of the pressure has been on the Heels to win these games, but there really hasn’t been any pressure on App State. When the Mountaineers won a couple of years ago, they were heroes back in Boone. When they lose to the Heels, they are commended for how hard they fought, and life goes on. The Heels have spent the last three years trying to take the elusive next step for the program, and losing to App State at home would’ve been catastrophic. This series has always been win-win for App State, and win-epic loss for the Heels. It’s great that the program made this series happen, but seriously, let’s never do this again.