5 things to watch for in UNC vs APP State matchup

·6 min read

After beating Florida A&M 56-24. the UNC football program faces a tough test on Saturday afternoon. They are traveling to Boone, North Carolina to face Appalachian State in the Mountaineer’s home opener.

Heading to Kidd Brewer Stadium, North Carolina is under the same scrutiny they faced in the season opener against Virginia Tech last season, which will be a tough environment to play in.

Can they get it done on the road?

There is no denying the struggles UNC has faced on the road versus when they are playing in Kenan Stadium. They had not won a road game since December 12th, 2020, when they clobbered Miami 62 to 26. After that, they lost seven straight games on the road or in neutral territories.

This game is just the third time UNC will play ASU, losing to them 34-31 in 2019. Since then, the Mountaineers have only improved with a 19-7 record in the last two seasons, including two bowl victories. A team known for their defense could cause significant hiccups in North Carolina’s offensive game plan.

Drake Maye played exceptionally well to open the season, becoming the first Tar Heel player to throw five touchdowns in a career start. However, that was against Florida A&M, and ASU poses a much more significant threat to the offense.

This game will be the first test for UNC, with week zero feeling more like a scrimmage game than a season opener. North Carolina has the opportunity to make a statement and build confidence for the rest of the year.

Can UNC keep Drake Maye clean?

Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels quarterback Drake Maye (10) throws a pass during the first half against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

The Appalachian pass rush will be ferocious, with outside linebacker Nick Hampton leading the charge. Last season Hampton led ASU in sacks(11) which also tied for 10th in the NCAA. Keeping the true freshman Maye clean to find targets is the most crucial goal for the offense in this game.

Against FAMU, Maye did not get sacked once and only got hurried three times. That sort of protection is vital for the sort of pass rush ASU will bring Saturday. I am not predicting another clean jersey for Maye but limiting any sacks that push UNC back and erupt the crowd has to be priority number one.

Will we see more of Travis Shaw?

Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels players take the field prior to a game against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

One player UNC fans were hyped to see this season is five-star defensive lineman Shaw. The 360-pound true freshman did see action late against FAMU, nearly snagging a fumble recovery on his first defensive drive as a Tar Heel.

The defense is stacked, especially on the line, so expect little glimpses of Shaw’s works for now. ASU has a ton of experience and could factor in the freshman waiting his turn again. Shaw was the number 1 recruit in North Carolina for the 2022 recruiting class.

A Lejond Cavazos sighting?

Ohio State Buckeyes cornerback Lejond Cavazos (4) against Minnesota Golden Gophers during their game at Huntington Bank Stadium at University of Minnesota in Minneapolis, MN on September 2, 2021.
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Another player fans are excited for is defensive back Cavazos, who could see his first minutes of action this weekend. Cavazos was a transfer from Ohio State University who has been sidelined due to injury.

This past week Mack Brown gave an update on the four-star transfer, making it known that he has been practicing and is ready to go. This is excellent news for the UNC secondary that struggled in the week zero matchup against Florida A&M. There is no telling how much Cavazos we will see but expect no.6 to be active and playing in the Saturday game.

How will UNC start the game?

Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels running back George Pettaway (23) runs the ball during the second half against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

One of the biggest knocks on North Carolina is how they have started games. UNC often gets off to a sluggish start, becoming a more dominant team in the second-half. However, a slow first half against ASU could cause too large of a hole that they will not be able to climb out of.

Even with a lopsided finish in the FAMU game, the first half kept the game much closer than it should have been. The conservative style hinders the offense scoring, creating long third downs and offering good field positions for the opposing team. Maye proved he could throw the ball, and Hampton and Pettaway showed they could run the rock. Trusting the offense early could be the difference between a nail-biting loss and a comfortable win.

How will UNC fair in a hostile environment

Aug 27, 2022; Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA; North Carolina Tar Heels tight end Bryson Nesbit (18) celebrates his touchdown with teammate Kamari Morales (88) during the first half against the Florida A&M Rattlers at Kenan Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Last season UNC struggled in road games, starting with the season opener against Virginia Tech. Everything that could have gone wrong did. Tech fans created a hostile environment that appeared to have UNC shaken. Despite the insane volume, North Carolina nearly came back after being down, losing 17-10 after holding the Hokies to zero points in the second half.

Appalachian State poses the same threat as the Hokies’ environment, with expectations of Kidd Brewer stadium being as loud as ever. The game is sold out and is the second-highest-priced ticket for week one. North Carolina will have to block out the noise and play an aggressive style of football to quiet the crowd early.

When Mack Brown was asked how his players would fair to the loud environment Appalachian would bring, he made it very simple.

“They will be loud, and that should be fun for you,” Brown said. “Embrace it; if you didn’t like playing in front of big crowds, then you shouldn’t have come here…this is big-time football.”

Story originally appeared on Tarheels Wire