Carolina fans could be forgiven for riding a little high after beating South Carolina in Charlotte to open the season. Those good vibes were justifiably recalibrated after the Tar Heels struggled to stop App State (especially on third and long), and now an unfamiliar opponent arrives at Kenan Stadium for the first time ever.
Minnesota is 2-0 on the backs of a vintage Matt Rhule pants-shitting and an efficient (if unimpressive) win over Eastern Michigan. The Gophers do not pop on offense, averaging just 19 points per game, but they are a legitimate B1G team with weapons that can hurt Carolina.
What do you see when you watch Minnesota running back Darius Taylor?
He’s patient, hits the hole hard, doesn’t go down on first contact, and falls forward. All of these attributes demand that Gene Chizik’s charges pay full attention at all times, but especially on third down.
Taylor carried the rock 33 times against Eastern Michigan for 193 yards and a touchdown. He didn’t explode for a long touchdown the way Omarion Hampton did, but in boxing terms, he just laid body shot after body shot to EMU’s ribs.
How will he fare against UNC? It’s hard to say. Minnesota only rushed for 55 yards against Nebraska. Taylor only had one carry for three yards! Are the Gophers flat track bullies who can’t be trusted against Power 5 competition, or was it just a weird opening weekend performance?
Carolina surely hopes it’s the former. The Tar Heels held South Carolina to just 20 yards rushing (disregard Spencer Rattler’s negative rushing total due to all of the sacks). If UNC can shake off the specter of Nate Noel running wild out of the backfield (he ran for 127 yards on his own, and the Mountaineers as a team rushed for 219 total yards) and get back to their eye-opening form from that magical opening night in Bank of America Stadium, the Heels will be in business.
Chip Lindsey came under some criticism from some Carolina fans because Drake Maye didn’t throw for 500 yards and four touchdowns against App State. While it’s true that Lindsey wants to run the ball and seeks offensive balance, circumstances probably demanded that UNC run the ball more against the Mountaineers.
Diego Pounds made his first start at left tackle, and he’s a stronger run blocker than pass protector. No reason to risk a mental mistake resulting in Maye getting his back blown out. British Brooks was also out, so Maye couldn’t benefit from his superior pass blocking. Oh, and Omarion Hampton was averaging nine yards per carry en route to a career night (234 yards rushing, 3 touchdowns).
There’s no guarantee that Lindsey and Maye will look to make up for lost time against Minnesota. Nebraska only threw for 114 yards against the Gophers, and Eastern Michigan was even worse with just 71 passing yards. For context, both schools only threw 20 and 19 times respectively, but neither was particularly dangerous in their passing attack.
Will Lindsey find openings that Minnesota kept closed against weaker opponents? The Gophers have not gone up against a future first-round NFL Draft pick yet this season. Will Carolina dissect the Minnesota secondary, or will they serve a second straight week of Hampton up the gut? In either case, they are head and shoulders the best offense Minnesota has faced so far this season.
Prediction: UNC 35, Minnesota 24