It’s been a pretty good week for the UNC football team, mainly because of how it played in Week 1 against South Carolina.
The Tar Heels rode a strong ground game and an uncharacteristically strong defense to a 31-17 victory over neighboring rival South Carolina. UNC’s defense recorded nine sacks – more than half of its 2022 total (17) – while holding the Gamecocks to three second-half points.
Tar Heels starting running back British Brooks, in his first game since 2021, led all players with 103 rushing yards. UNC’s experienced ground game generated a total of 168 rushing yards, meaning quarterback Drake Maye didn’t need to be at his best.
As a result of all this, Carolina moved up to 17th in the latest AP Poll.
UNC’s schedule doesn’t get an easier, as they face a tough App State squad on Saturday, Sept. 9 at 5:15 p.m. in Kenan Stadium.
When the Heels and Mountaineers met last year in Boone, chaos ensued. UNC appeared on the brink of pulling away with a victory, scoring 34 unanswered points, only for App State to come crawling back and tie things up in the fourth quarter.
Both schools combined for 62 fourth-quarter points, yet it was the visiting Tar Heels who pulled out a 63-61 victory.
Heading into Saturday’s matchup, let’s take a deeper dive into what UNC needs to do for a second-consecutive win against their rivals in the Appalachian Mountains:
Terrorize Mountaineer defense with running back carousel
When a team runs for 168 yards on the ground, it’s due to a combination of talented running backs and the offensive line opening some holes.
UNC arguably has the deepest running back room in the entire country, yet any one of those backs could start and have a big game.
Last Saturday against South Carolina, it was British Brooks’ turn to shine, with his 103 rushing yards topping all players. Sophomore Omarion Hampton led the Tar Heels with two rushing touchdowns.
UNC also has Caleb Hood and Elijah Green in the running back room, both of whom started last year.
Continue to have wide receivers step up
That young man on Saturday was Kings Mountain, NC native Kobe Paysour, who caught seven passes for 66 yards and a second-quarter touchdown that gave UNC the lead for good.
Paysour’s not the only receiver in Carolina’s room, as Gavin Blackwell and J.J. Jones also contributed in last Saturday’s win. The duo combined for 61 yards on three receptions, highlighted by Blackwell’s lone 37-yard grab.
If one (or multiple) of the above three receivers exceeds expectations in Saturday’s UNC home opener, App State could be packing its bags before the fourth quarter even starts.
Continue to feed the tight ends
Heading into Week 1, there was a lot of hype surrounding UNC’s tight end group.
That group certainly lived up to the hype, with John Copenhaver, Kamari Morales and Bryson Nesbit totaling 120 yards and a touchdown on nine receptions. Copenhaver made the catch of the day, turning his back on a defender to reel in Drake Maye’s third-quarter touchdown throw with one hand.
The Gamecocks had few answers for this vaunted group, with it averaging over a first down per catch.
If South Carolina had difficulty stopping the Copenhaver-Morales-Nesbit trio, App State will struggle even more against it.
Look for Drake Maye to improve
Even though Drake Maye shined in the UNC passing game with 269 yards and two touchdowns, he also threw two interceptions that allowed South Carolina to stay in the game longer that it should have.
Some of this could be attributed to first-game jitters or rust from not playing for eight months, a brand-new wide receiving corps, or it could just have been a “down” game for Maye. Regardless, his stat line is impressive for a Heisman Candidate hopeful.
App State is always tough defensively, but not quite at the level of South Carolina. Expect Maye to throw for over 300 yards and torture the Mountaineers with his ground game.
Rely on Ryan Coe when drives stall
When offensive drives stall, it’s great to have a reliable kicker like Ryan Coe on your team.
Coe was perfect in the Heels’ season-opening, 31-17 triumph over South Carolina, connecting on a 37-yard field goal attempt and all four of his extra points.
UNC should score plenty more against App State – that could include more field goals from Coe. Look for him to be perfect on extra points and make at least one field goal under the Kenan Stadium lights.