Heel Tough Blog: Appalachian State Preview

Updated: Sep 24, 2019


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For the first time since last November, the Tar Heels will be tasked with recovering from a loss when they take the field on Saturday. The good news is, for the first time in 2019, the Tar Heels will face a non-Power 5 opponent. The bad news: that non-Power 5 opponent is Appalachian State. Let’s take a look at the Tar Heels matchup with the school where Mack Brown held his first head coaching job.



Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels offense has struggled to consistently move the football since the first quarter of that Miami game outside of Friday night’s fourth quarter. Quarterback Sam Howell recovered from a rough first half last week to continue what has been a spectacular start to his career as the Tar Heels starting quarterback. Both Dyami Brown and Dazz Newsome have benefited with fantastic starts, but injuries are making it hard for any of the other receivers or tight ends to make steady contributions. The running game has been good, not great, but having Javonte Williams and Michael Carter each over 200 yards give the Tar Heels offense the running dimension it needed. The Tar Heels offensive line looks to be in good shape on paper, but the injury to Nick Polino is weighing more than many may have thought it would at the time of the injury. The good news is that the unit still has Charlie Heck to anchor the line and some promising young players who should continue to grow as the season goes along

The defense has shown signs of improvement, but continues to have trouble making it consistent. Injuries have been one of the key reasons, but the Tar Heels will have no choice but to adjust as they keep mounting. The defensive line remains the strongest unit for the Tar Heels defense, led by defensive tackle Aaron Crawford and defensive end Jason Strowbridge, the latter of which is one of those dealing with an injury. It helps that the linebacking corps has found some standouts, especially in the middle of the unit, where there was huge concern entering the season. Tomon Fox and Allen Cater have emerged as the starters and had strong starts to their season. The secondary entered the season with confidence, even with some depth concerns, but an injury to Patrice Rene that will cost him the rest of the season, meaning that Trey Morrison and Greg Ross Jr. are left to fend for themselves at corner, something that didn’t work out too well against Wake Forest. The key for the secondary is remaining healthy, something that hasn’t been easy over the last few years. Tackling remains an issue for the Tar Heels defensively and is one of the main reasons the defense hasn’t taken a major step forward yet.

The special teams unit continues to have it’s ups-and-downs, but ultimately, it looks like the Tar Heels have settled on their starters at each position. Punter Ben Kiernan has shown he has a strong leg, but needs to avoid more games like the Miami game. Meanwhile, placekicker Noah Ruggles is off to a solid yet unspectacular start.

Appalachian State

The Mountaineers offense lost a key offensive starter from a year ago in running back Jalin Moore, leading many to believe the unit might take a step back. Instead, the unit might actually be better thanks to the emergence of their new starting running back Darrynton Evans, who currently sits 13th in the country in rushing yards. He joins quarterback Zac Thomas, who is off to another strong start and wide receiver Corey Sutton, who rejoins the team after missing the first two games due to suspension, as the major offensive weapons for first year head coach Eli Drinkwitz’s offense. Sutton will be a huge addition to a Mountaineers wide receiving corps that doesn’t have a receiver over 100 yards receiving yet this season. The Appalachian State offensive line is a veteran one that is off to a good start, especially in the run game.

The defense is the unit with the most questions after a poor showing against Charlotte where they allowed 526 yards. The defense is anchored by its linebacking corps, which is led by Akeem Davis-Gaither. The Appalachian State pass rush has been solid thanks to Gaither and fellow outside linebackers Nick Hampton and Noel Cook, while the defensive line is led by defensive end Demetrius Taylor. The secondary is not as strong as it has been in past years with Clifton Duck having moved on, but safety Josh Thomas is a name to watch for.

The special teams unit looks to be in good shape, especially at both returner spots where the committee approach is paying dividends. Punter Xavier Subostch has a booming leg. The only concern might be placekicker Chandler Staton, who has attempted just one field goal so far this season and it was a miss.



Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 23.3 (T-95th)

Off. PYPG: 242.0 (68th)

Off. RYPG: 159.7 (79th)

Off. TYPG: 401.7 (75th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 21.4% (126th)

Def. PPG: 23.0 (T-57th)

Def. PYPG: 221.7 (T-69th)

Def. RYPG: 176.3 (92nd)

Def. TYPG: 398.0 (82nd)

Sacks: 8.0 (T-34th)

Interceptions: 3 (T-25th)

Turnover Margin: +1

Offensive Efficiency: 55.9 (55th)

Defensive Efficiency: 69.0 (38th)

Special Teams Efficiency: 43.5 (85th)

Overall Team Efficiency: 64.0 (45th)


Appalachian State

Off. PPG: 49.0 (12th)

Off. PYPG: 174.5 (108th)

Off. RYPG: 276.5 (14th)

Off. TYPG: 451.0 (48th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 52.2% (T-16th)

Def. PPG: 24.0 (T-62nd)

Def. PYPG: 228.5 (77th)

Def. RYPG: 180.5 (96th)

Def. TYPG: 409.0 (T-86th)

Sacks: 6.0 (T-71st)

Interceptions: 1 (T-87th)

Turnover Margin: +3

Offensive Efficiency: 62.4 (43rd)

Defensive Efficiency: 24.4 (116th)

Special Teams Efficiency: 87.2 (3rd)

Overall Team Efficiency: 50.3 (72nd)


Three Keys To The Game

Get Yourself in Third & Short

The third down conversion rate is one of the worst in the country, but the big issue hasn’t been on first and second down. 23 of the 42 third downs that the Tar Heels have faced this season have been 3rd & 7 or longer. That has to change with better play-calling and execution on first and second down. It needs to start against Appalachian State, one of the weaker defenses the Tar Heels will face along the way.

Slow Down That Run Game

The first two games of the season have been field days for the Mountaineers on the ground. Although the Tar Heels have been better at stopping the run early this season than in years past, both Miami and Wake Forest averaged over 4.5 yards per carry. Zac Thomas is a quality starter who has won a lot of games at quarterback, but this Appalachian State offense has always gone as the running game has. The Tar Heels game plan should be to force the Mountaineers to have to make plays through the air, something they haven’t really had to do in the first two games of the season.

Feed Off of the Environment

As we saw in the home opener, Kenan Stadium is set up to have a great environment for the 2019 season. Although Appalachian State is known to give Power 5 opponents trouble, they have not beaten a Power 5 opponent since the upset in the Big House. The Tar Heels need to feed off of their home environment, as many others have, to extend that streak for the Mountaineers.


Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Matthew Flint (leg), Brandon Fritts (knee), Nick Polino (lower body), Patrice Rene (knee), Bryson Richardson (knee)

QUEST- Antoine Green (lower body), Carl Tucker (lower body), Jordan Tucker (knee)

PROB- Jason Strowbridge (ankle)

Appalachian State

OUT- Camerun Peoples (knee)



Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels

Offense

QB

# 7 Sam Howell, Fr.

RB

#25 Javonte Williams, So. OR

# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.

WR

# 2 Dyami Brown, So.

WR

#15 Beau Corrales, Jr.

WR

# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.

TE

#84 Garrett Walston, Jr.

LT

#67 Charlie Heck, Sr.

LG

#63 Ed Montilus, RFr.

C

#68 Brian Anderson, So.

RG

#73 Marcus McKethan, So.

RT

#75 Joshua Ezeudu, RFr.

Defense

DE

#51 Raymond Vohasek, So. OR

#56 Tomari Fox, Fr.

NG

#92 Aaron Crawford, Sr.

DT

#55 Jason Strowbridge, Sr.

OLB

#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB

#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, So.

ILB

#21 Chazz Surratt, Jr.

OLB

#33 Allen Cater, Sr. OR

#56 Tomari Fox, RFr.

CB

#10 Greg Ross, Jr.

FS

# 1 Myles Dorn, Sr.

SS

#11 Myles Wolfolk, Jr.

CB

#4 Trey Morrison, So.

NB

#16 D.J. Ford, Jr.

Special Teams

K

#97 Noah Ruggles, So.

KOS

#90 Michael Rubino, Sr.

P

#91 Ben Kiernan, Fr.

LS

#61 Drew Little, Fr. (K)

#60 Trevor Collins, Jr. (P)

H

#96 Cooper Graham, So.

KR

# 8 Michael Carter, Jr.

PR

# 5 Dazz Newsome, Jr.


Appalachian State

Offense

QB

#12 Zac Thomas, Jr.

RB

# 3 Darrynton Evans, Jr.

WR

# 2 Corey Sutton, Jr.

WR

# 5 Thomas Hennigan, Jr.

WR

#14 Malik Williams, Jr.

TE

#87 Collin Reed, Sr.

LT

#75 Victor Johnson, Sr.

LG

#58 Ryan Neuzil, Jr.

C

#60 Noah Hannon, Jr.

RG

#51 Baer Hunter, Jr.

RT

#70 Cooper Hodges, RFr.

Defense

DE

#48 Demetrius Taylor, Jr.

NT

#98 E.J. Scott, Sr.

DE

#57 Elijah Diarrassouba, Jr.

OLB

#20 Noel Cook, Sr.

ILB

#59 Jordan Fehr, Sr.

ILB

#45 Trey Cobb, So.

OLB

#24 Akeem Davis-Gaither, Sr.

CB

# 8 Shemar Jean-Charles, Jr.

FS

# 6 Desmond Franklin, Sr.

SS

# 7 Josh Thomas, Sr.

CB

# 3 Shaun Jolly, So.

Special Teams

K

#91 Chandler Staton, Jr.

P

#39 Xavier Subotsch, Jr.

KO

#91 Chandler Staton, Jr.

LS

#42 Christian Johnstone, Fr.

H

#39 Xavier Subotsch, Jr.

KR

# 3 Darrynton Evans, Jr.

PR

# 5 Thomas Hennigan, Jr.

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