It’s easy to get caught up in the moment of watching a football game, especially when you’re in the stadium or watching with friends. You start forming opinions, they take over, and everything that you see later turns into confirmation bias. Later on, if you have access to watch the game again away from the emotions, away from your opinions, you’ll find that things look a lot different.
Such is the case with the UNC win versus App State on Saturday. In real time, it looked like the lid had been placed on quarterback Drake Maye, and every play just fed into this thought. In rewatching, you start to see that a fair share of the blame goes not just to the play calls, but the players themselves in not helping Maye out early on. Funny enough, once the players stopped making mistakes, the play calls looked better.
I figured this little disclaimer was needed before going into this week’s list of who shined and who didn’t, because while anger is warranted, some of it should be directed in a different area too. With that out of the way, let’s get to that list.
Offensive Line-Let’s take a second and tip our caps for the second straight week to the UNC offensive line. Only two sacks allowed against a strong App State front seven, and that’s after surrendering no sacks to the Gamecocks a week ago. There has been a real emphasis on getting the run game going this year and the line has stepped up. Frankly, one of the sacks Drake took was on him for just holding the ball too long, and when asked to throw he usually had a great pocket and time to go through his progressions. If they keep this up the rest of the offense will have room to work on their issues.
Omarion Hampton-I mean, has he stopped running? 234 yards on the ground, three touchdowns and a ridiculous 9.0 yards per rush average. He took advantage of the holes opened up by the line, and then with space just did not want to be brought down. When the game went to overtime, there was no doubt where the Tar Heels would go when App State scored in their first attempt, and App having to account for him was the reason Drake was able to walk into the end zone for the second overtime. Without British Brooks, Hampton stepped up to shoulder a huge load. That also made the decisions early in the game all the more perplexing. Hampton’s rushing ability is going to help Drake the run better and the offense will be better for it.
JJ Jones-With the likely absence of Tez Walker for the rest of the season — we’ll see about what legal recourse he has — and Nate McCollum still clearly not at 100%, the receiving corps for the Tar Heels have shown exactly why they wanted to bring Tez and Nate in. Dropped passes and bad footwork killed momentum, but the spell was finally broken late when Jones finally caught a 57 yard pass by Maye. On a day when Maye only threw for 208 yards, Jones caught 91 of them and may have shown that someone is willing to run deep and stretch the defense. Unless a legal miracle occurs, maybe Jones the player they are looking for.
Chip Lindsay-Social media has really obliterated Lindsay after the offense that he called for the first three quarters. Maye’s completions early on were just from small screens, short throws, and there didn’t seem to be any incentive to throw the ball deep down the field. However, this isn’t totally true. Yes, in the first two games the majority of passes have been short screens to the receivers and asking them to make plays, but in rewatching the game I noticed that there were calls for deeper throws, the play just wasn’t made. On the first drive alone, Kamari Morales dropped a pass that would have put Carolina deeper into the Red Zone, and then JJ Jones went backwards when he caught a pass at the sticks to set up the turnover on downs. Later on, Bryson Nesbit didn’t show good footwork in getting down into the end zone, costing them four points.
All that said, when you have a guy who is a Heisman Trophy candidate and has the hype of a Drake Maye, you have to showcase his ability more. We finally got to see more of it in the second half and you were reminded just how good he can be. Now that teams know the Tar Heels can run again, it might be time to use the play action and RPO more and start letting Drake cook.
Also, no more Wildcat. Hampton and Maye have both shown they are more than capable of running and defense have to account for them. It was cute that it worked last week, but teams are ready for it now. Brown has said as much he’s done with it, so we don’t need to spend any more time on it.
Special teams-I want to start by saying this does not include Ben Kiernan. He did a great job punting the ball and he low-key saved the Tar Heels in the fourth when he handled a really bad snap and got the ball away under a ton of pressure. A block there at minimum gets App a lot closer to the end zone and he may have been a block and score.
This is for two parts: the first is the absurd decision to never run Caleb Hood on kickoffs. App State, for some reason, decided to always kick the ball high and short, barely getting past the 20, and there was never a thought for Hood to attempt a runback and improving Carolina’s field position. The last App kickoff almost seemed like it was past the 25 but it was still fair caught, and while it’s understandable you don’t want to take a risk, you at least want to try to make your field position better. When you have a talent like Hood receiving kicks, give him a chance to do something.
Also, the kick by by Ryan Coe at the end of regulation was just bad. Well within his range, even with all of the delays, that’s a kick that you have to make. He knows it, we all know it. But I’ll end on a positive note: good on him for recovering to be able to kick the important PAT in overtime. Carolina fans still scarred from how the last game in Kenan ended knew that was no gimme, especially given his last attempt. Maybe that’ll be his low point.
Defensive Front-Yes, the secondary is getting off lightly here but they weren’t great last week so it made the regression by the line noticeable. After scoring nine sacks, they managed none. After allowing about 70 yards rushing once the sacks are taken out, they allowed 219. A ton of credit does go to App’s Nate Noel who is on multiple award watch lists and showed why, but the staggering regression by the front really does make you wonder which performance we saw was the real one. Once again a backup quarterback was able to flummox a Carolina defense — but they at least showed up when it mattered. On the last overtime drive the pressure finally got to the Mountaineers to where they had to make a desperate throw that had no chance of landing on fourth down. Hopefully the rest of the season is more of a middle between the two performances.
Drake Maye once again had a mostly pedestrian type of game, 21-30 is great, but only 208 yards with no touchdowns isn’t. Still, his ability to read the field was on full display, and his overtime winner was just a great touch of seeing App State sell out for one player. Hopefully the connections he was making by the end will allow the offense to open up more to where we see the numbers to match the hype...Cedric Gray and Don Chapman teamed up to get the first turnover for the Tar Heels this season, as Gray forced Joey Aguilar to rush the throw and Chapman was able to read the play and pick off the pass. Overall the secondary gave up some rough plays to where App was able to consistently convert on third downs, but they had enough pressure to where the receivers also had to make some really tough catches. It’d be nice if they’d stop giving receivers so much space though... Alijah Huzzie was a huge reason the defense was able to stone App on the final overtime attempt, he’s been a huge add to the squad to help stabilize the defense.