The Tar Heels are 2-0, but it certainly wasn’t easy. After fighting back from an early deficit, the struggles of the defense bit the team in the fourth quarter as they allowed an unthinkable six touchdowns. However, the Tar Heels' shorthanded offense came up big, helping the team win their first road game since the 2020 regular-season finale. Here is a look at the biggest takeaways from Saturday’s victory in Boone.
That Is One of the Wildest Games That You Will Ever See
Honestly, it is hard to think of a game that was as crazy as this one. As we mentioned above, the Tar Heels were in a hole early on after a rough first quarter that saw the Mountaineers find the endzone three times and total 205 yards of total offense. The Tar Heels bounced back from that 21-7 deficit with 34 straight points to take a 41-21 lead and had Tar Heel fans probably feeling pretty confident that this team has started to turn the corner. However, the defense fell apart in the fourth quarter with what may have been the worst defensive quarter in program history. Once the Mountaineers tied the game at 49, things became absolutely insane. The Tar Heels would score a long touchdown on a pass from Drake Maye to D.J. Jones, but the Mountaineers would respond. They would drive the length of the field and score a touchdown after some major mistakes that kept the drive going. The Mountaineers would go for two, but quarterback Chase Brice overthrew a wide-open receiver keeping the Tar Heels in the lead. On the ensuing kickoff, Bryson Nesbit came down with the ball and steamed into the endzone thanks to some tremendous blocking ahead of him. The Tar Heels would make the extra point to extend the lead to eight, but the Mountaineers would respond just 19 seconds later, giving them a chance to send the game to overtime. The Tar Heels would make their most important stand of the day, as Noah Taylor and Kaimon Rucker dropped Brice short of the endzone. Nesbit would once again recover the onside kick, but this time smartly went down, allowing the Tar Heels to hold on for the win. The Tar Heels have certainly had some wild finishes in program history, but this one may top the charts because of just how impossible it was for either team to get a stop in the final 30 seconds of the game.
This Offense Looks Capable of Great Things
With Josh Downs, one of, if not the best offensive player in the ACC, out of the lineup, there was a question about how this unit would be able to hold up in this hostile environment against a defense that was having to replace some talent, but still had plenty of experience in place. From the get go, though, it was clear that this unit is already in a tremendous rhythm thanks to the man under center. Maye was outstanding once again, totaling 428 yards of total offense and find the endzone five more times in this one. He spread the ball around extremely well once again, completing passes to eight different receivers and finding four different receivers with his four passing touchdowns. The tight ends played a key role for the team once again and Kobe Paysour, who got the start in place of Downs, looked fantastic and actually led the team in receiving. The ground game wasn’t as strong as it was a week ago, but the group made timely plays, including the 71-yard scamper by Caleb Hood that slowed Appalachian State’s momentum after they scored 14 points in 1:33 in the middle of the 4th quarter. The offensive line had some early struggles and were part of the team’s issues with penalties, but it was a solid effort once again. This offense was supposed to be the biggest question mark on this team this season, especially early in the year while working in a new starting quarterback. Instead, this offense looks like it may be as potent as ever while the other side of the ball remains a complete mess.
This Defense is Going to Hold This Team Back
A mess is frankly a nice way of describing this Tar Heel defense right now. The team allowed an unprecedented 40 points in the fourth quarter, the first time a team has allowed that many points in a fourth quarter since 2015. They allowed 338 yards to the Mountaineers in the final quarter and simply showed no resistance. Communication breakdowns were probably the most consistent part of this Tar Heel defense on Saturday as there seemed to be just about one every drive and the same could be said for the missed tackles. The team once again struggled to get push up front both in the run and pass game, something that just continues to be more and more dejecting because of just how much talent this team has on the defensive line. The hope is that this will be a learning experience for this team, but there have been way too many learning experiences for the program in recent years.
The Self-Inflicted Mistakes Almost Cost You a Win
One of the biggest keys that we had for this Tar Heel team heading into today was to avoid the self-inflicted mistakes and they failed to do that. After showing solid discipline in the opener, the Tar Heels committed eleven penalties for 100 yards, including three that continued Appalachian State drives. The offense only turned it over once, but it was a big one that put the Mountaineers firmly back in the game. The game management wasn’t the greatest either. The staff made a mistake accepting the holding call on 3rd & 8 early on in the 4th quarter after the team had forced a stop. On the ensuing play, the Tar Heels would take a late hit penalty, I’ll be it a very questionable one, that allowed the drive to continue, leading to the first touchdown of the quarter that started the comeback. Nesbit's onside kick return for a touchdown was another major mistake that nearly cost the team and is one that the special team unit needs to learn from.
This Team Will Give You a Lot of Agita This Season
With all of the things that we just talked about, we would encourage you to invest in some Tums because this likely won’t be the last time that this team plays a game like this. A win is a win, but is it too much to ask for it to be a little less dramatic if you have a 20-point lead in a game moving forward.