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UNC vs. App State: X-Factor

Time for the secondary to join the party.

NCAA Football: North Carolina at South Carolina Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports

The offensive line has been a strength for recent Appalachian State teams. Last season, App State boasted two First Team All-Sun Belt offensive linemen: Isaiah Helms, who was part of the 2022 All-Sun Belt Third Team as an offensive tackle, has also been recognized on the 2023 Preseason All-Sun Belt First Team, and redshirt senior Damion Daley has earned his place on the 2023 Preseason All-Sun Belt Second Team. These players, and their preseason accolades, highlight the strength of Appalachian State’s offensive line. Both of these linemen started all 12 games last season, and will be a force for the Mountaineers this season.

However, in the season opening game at home versus Gardner-Webb, App State gave up two sacks, including one on a key third down in their second drive of the game.

This is not to say that the defensive line of the North Carolina Tar Heels will not be the x-factor in Saturday’s home debut, but expectations must be tempered after the historical performance against South Carolina.

This week’s x-factor versus Appalachian State is the Carolina defensive secondary.

The defensive backfield was the only target that South Carolina could find in the second half last Saturday, when generous coverage allowed for lots of checkdowns into the flats or soft spots in the defense.

Head coach Mack Brown pointed out some of these issues after the game:

Our young corners have to pick it up, because they gave up an explosive play for a first down.

One of those youngsters was redshirt freshman cornerback Tayon Halloway. Across the line of scrimmage from Halloway was Xavier Legette, and throughout the night the 6’3” receiver made catches over the top of the smaller cornerback. Legette led all receivers in last week’s game with 178 yards.

The hope is that this was a learning experience for Halloway—one that can be used for positive change this season.

After App State starting quarterback Ryan Burger suffered a finger injury early in the game last week, junior Joey Aguilar came in and did some good work, completing 11 of 13 passes for 174 yards and four touchdowns.

With two capable quarterbacks possibly under center for Appalachian State, this could cause issues for the UNC defense if both play, and if the attack changes depending on personnel.

Five different receivers caught two or more passes in the Mountaineers’ game against Gardner-Webb on Saturday, but none of them had more than 64 yards. Look for the Mountaineers to spread the ball around until they find something that works.

Hopefully, the Tar Heels can make the proper adjustments with their pass defense, and the secondary can take a step forward as a formidable unit.