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Heel Tough Blog: Appalachian State Preview

Updated: Sep 3, 2022

Nicholas Faulkner- Getty Images

After a win in Week 0 over Florida A&M to open the season the Tar Heels will ramp things up this weekend as they head to The Rock to take on Appalachian State in what will be the largest crowd in Mountaineer history. The Tar Heels will have to iron out some things from their opener as they look to avenge the loss from the first leg of this series back in 2019.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

This Tar Heel offense had some major questions heading into last Saturday’s game and while a Week 0 matchup with an FCS opponent won’t eliminate those completely, it’s hard not to feel at least a little more confident in the unit as a whole heading to Boone this weekend. Drake Maye looked about as good as he could in his first collegiate start and proved that the staff made the right decision to start him. He set a program record for touchdowns in a first career start with five and became just the second quarterback in the last fifteen years to finish his first start with five touchdown passes while completing 75% of his passes, joining former Heisman winner Jameis Winston. At running back, the team saw the immediate emergence of the two true freshmen who looked like they already have the makeup of the next great Tar Heel running back duo. Omarion Hampton became the first freshman to run for 100+ yards in their debut since program legend Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice and found the endzone twice, while George Pettaway showed a nice burst and tremendous cutback ability. Both of those guys will likely have big roles for this team moving forward, but the trio of D.J. Jones, Caleb Hood and Elijah Green will also be factors, especially if they can help in pass protection. Josh Downs status for this game with his knee injury might be biggest single determining factor on how this game plays out.The rest of the pass catching group had a really solid night in the opener led by the tight ends, but without Downs, this inexperienced would have to step up to a major task for a Tar Heel offense that will almost certainly need to put up points on Saturday. The Tar Heel offensive line got off to a strong start last week by not allowing a single negative play and will hope to carry that success over to what will be a much stiffer test against a fully stock App State defensive front.

Defensively, the Tar Heels didn’t get off to the quickest start to the second Gene Chizik era in Chapel Hill. The defensive line had some moments where they shined, but much like a year ago, the push just wasn’t consistent despite holding Florida A&M to 56 rushing yards. The linebacking core was the strength of the unit in the opener led by an outstanding performance in the middle by Power Echols. The secondary is the area of most concern following the game against Florida A&M. The group struggled to close on the ball and made things way to easy at times for the Rattlers passing game. Both Storm Duck and Dontae Balfour need to show more resistance on the outside, especially if Tony Grimes cannot return to the lineup after his upper body injury. The good news is that Ohio State transfer Lejond Cavazos could make his Tar Heel debut this weekend and DeAndre Boykins looked really good the other night.

The special teams unit wasn’t really tested a lot a week so there are still plenty of questions about this unit. Ben Kiernan had a strong night punting, averaging 49.5 yards on his two punts. Omarion Hampton looked good in the return game, but that was against a severely depleted Florida A&M team. At punt returner, the uncertainty around Josh Downs leaves that position in question and new placekicker Noah Burnette was not tested last week.

Appalachian State

The Mountaineers are set to be one of the best Group of 5 teams in the country one again this season. Offensively, the team is under new coordinator Kevin Barbay who comes over from Central Michigan after manufacturing the offense that had the nation’s leading rusher a year ago. The Mountaineers have a litany of talent in their backfield led by the two-headed monster of Nate Noel and Camerun Peoples who combined for 2,052 yards on the ground a year ago. Sixth-year senior Chase Brice is back at quarterback and is coming off a career season where he broke the school record for passing yards in a season and finished with 30 total touchdowns. The Mountaineer offensive line returns four of five starters from a year ago, anchored by three time All-Sun Belt tackle Cooper Hodges. The one area of weakness for the Mountaineers on offense may be that wide receiving corps, which has to replace four of their top five receivers from a year ago. Sophomore Christian Wells will be the leader of the group that simply doesn’t have a ton of experience outside of SMU transfer Tyler Page, who is not currently listed as a starter on the initial depth chart.

Defensively, the Mountaineers have to replace seven starters from a year ago, but they still have some talent on this side of the ball. Nick Hampton and Jordon Earle are two of the four returning starters and will lead the charge up front that will test this Tar Heel offensive line. At linebacker, Trey Cobb is back after an outstanding 2021 season and will be a big threat as a do-it-all WILL linebacker. Cornerback Steven Jones Jr. is the lone man back in the secondary, but the 2021 first team All-American will be one of the best defensive players that the team will face all year. The rest of the unit, though, has a lot of replacing to do, but there is still plenty of talent looking to break out starting on Saturday.

The special teams unit, like Carolina’s, is a bit of a mystery. Tyler Page handled punt return duties at SMU and had some nice success so he will assume that role again for the Mountaineers. Milan Tucker looks like he will get the first crack at kick returner duties as he looks to continue the tremendous success that team has had in that area in the past six years. Similar to Carolina, the biggest unknown is the placekicker. Punter Clayton Howell returns and will reassume the starting job after losing it Xavier Subotsch after a strong freshman season. The incredibly reliable Chandler Staton is gone, leaving the duties in the hands of Michael Hughes, who has never even attempted an extra point at the college level.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 56.0 (T-5th)

Off. PYPG: 294.0 (T-14th)

Off. RYPG: 314.0 (4th)

Off. TYPG: 608.0 (2nd)

Off. 3rd Down %: 58.3% (3rd)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 4.0 (T-13th)

Sacks Allowed: 0.0 (T-1st)

Def. PPG: 24.0 (T-19th)

Def. PYPG: 279.0 (27th)

Def. RYPG: 56.0 (7th)

Def. TYPG: 335.0 (14th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.5% (T-21st)

Tackles for A Loss: 6.0 (T-17th)

Sacks: 3.0 (T-6th)

Interceptions: 1 (T-11th)

Turnover Margin: +2 (T-5th)

Penalties Per Game: 5.0 (T-8th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 45.0 (T-8th)

Appalachian State (2021 Stats)

Off. PPG: 34.5 (22nd)

Off. PYPG: 249.1 (54th)

Off. RYPG: 192.9 (34th)

Off. TYPG: 442.0 (26th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 36.2% (93rd)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 58.0 (T-16th)

Sacks Allowed: 17.0 (T-14th)

Def. PPG: 22.1 (30th)

Def. PYPG: 222.0 (T-58th)

Def. RYPG: 122.1 (21st)

Def. TYPG: 344.1 (T-28th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 34.3% (23rd)

Tackles for Loss: 112.0 (5th)

Sacks: 37.0 (T-30th)

Interceptions: 15 (T-14th)

Turnover Margin: -4 (90th)

Penalties Per Game: 6.1 (T-63rd)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 53.1 (66th)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Ja’Qurious Conley (knee), Josh Downs (right leg), Antoine Green (collarbone), Jahlil Taylor (lower body)

QUEST- Tony Grimes (upper body)

PROB- Lejond Cavazos (lower body)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#26 D.J. Jones, Jr.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 8 Kobe Paysour, RFr.

WR# 2 Gavin Blackwell, RFr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr. OR #52 Jonathan Adorno, So.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. OR #76 William Barnes, Sr. Defense

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Sr. OR #98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END#10 Des Evans, Jr.

JACK# 7 Noah Taylor, Sr. OR #17 Chris Collins, Sr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

ILB#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB#14 Dontae Balfour, RFr.

BS#27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

CB# 3 Storm Duck, Jr.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Sr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

KR#28 Omarion Hampton, Fr.

PR# 9 Cam’Ron Kelly, Sr.

Appalachian State Offense

QB# 7 Chase Brice, Sr.

RB# 6 Camerun Peoples, Jr. OR # 5 Nate Noel, So.

WR# 9 Christian Wells, So.

SLOT#17 Dashaun Davis, So.

WR#13 Christian Horn, So.

TE#89 Henry Pearson, Sr.

LT#74 Anderson Hardy, Jr.

LG#75 Damion Daley, Jr. OR #62 Bucky Williams, Jr.

C#52 Troy Everett, RFr.

RG#54 Isaiah Helms, Jr.

RT#70 Cooper Hodges, Jr. Defense

DE#43 Hansky Paillant, Jr.

NT#99 Jordon Earle, Jr.

DE#50 DeAndre Dingle-Prince, So.

OLB# 9 Nick Hampton, Jr.

ILB#15 Andrew Parker, Jr.

ILB# 7 Trey Cobb, Sr.

OLB# 8 Brendan Harrington, Jr.

FCB# 6 Steven Jones Jr., Sr.

FS#27 Ronald Clarke, So.

SS# 4 Nick Ross, Jr.

BCB# 5 Dexter Lawson Jr., Sr. OR #19 Ethan Johnson, Fr. Special Teams

K#99 Michael Hughes, So.

KOS#99 Michael Hughes, So.

P#30 Clayton Howell, Sr.

LS#42 Christian Johnstone, Jr. OR #45 Jake Mann, RFr.

H#30 Clayton Howell, Sr.

KR# 0 Milan Tucker, So.

PR#20 Tyler Page, Sr.

Game Information

Location: Kidd Brewer Stadium, Boone, NC

Time: 12:00 PM


Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network (check local affiliates)

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