After a cancellation and a regularly scheduled bye week, the Tar Heels took the field for the first time in three weeks as they traveled to Chestnut Hill to take on the Boston College Eagles. As somewhat expected, it was a bit of an ugly showing from the Tar Heels, as they had to hold off a late charge from the Eagles to pull out the 26-22 victory. Here is what we learned about this Tar Heel team on Saturday.
Run Game is Ready to Carry This Tar Heel Offense
The Tar Heel backfield expanded upon their positive start in the season opener on Saturday. The combo of Carter and Williams combined for 177 yards on their 27 carries led by a huge game from Carter. The senior finished with 121 yards on 16 rush attempts, ripping off a couple of long runs in the second half on his way to his sixth career 100 yard rushing game. Williams also had a couple of big runs on the night, as he almost mirrored his production from the first game of the season on the ground, rushing for 57 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. The Tar Heels run game was leaned on quite often on Saturday, especially in the first three quarters, but there were a few drives in the second half where the Tar Heels abandoned the run once crossing midfield. Carter and Williams have shown they can handle carrying the load and the staff needs to be more aggressive running the football when they wear down defenses late.
Passing Game Off to a Slow Start
The running game wasn’t the only element of this game that resembled the first game of the season against Syracuse. Although he wasn’t bad, the Tar Heels Heisman hopeful quarterback, Sam Howell, struggled once again, finishing 14-26 for 225 yards and posting a 2-1 touchdown to interception ratio. Howell’s biggest issue on Saturday afternoon was just how long he was holding on to the football, taking four sacks, three of which were coverage sacks. So far in the first two games of the season, the wide receiving corps has had trouble creating separation, especially on the deep routes that they thrived on a year ago, leading to Howell holding the ball for too long. While the wide receiving group definitely needs to be better at creating separation, Phil Longo has to work with Howell on tucking and running earlier or throwing the football away when he gets in trouble.
Untimely Penalties Nearly Killed This Team and Have to Be Corrected
The ACC officials are definitely calling things a lot closer this season and the Tar Heels nearly did themselves in with the timing of the penalties. The Tar Heels had a few head-scratching mistakes in the fourth quarter, especially on the offensive side of the football. On the final offensive drive of the game, a Jordan Tucker holding penalty and an Ed Montilus ineligible downfield penalty, his second of the game, backed the Tar Heels up, forcing the Tar Heels to attempt a 47-yard field goal attempt with Grayson Atkins that was missed wide left, keeping it a one possession game. On the final drive, the Tar Heel defense committed two penalties of their own, both pass interference penalties, the latter of which bailed out the Eagles on a 3rd & Goal from the 32. Cleaning up the penalties in general is something that has to happen as the season goes along, but the Tar Heels need to avoid shooting themselves in the foot late in games because next time they might not be able to hang on for the win.
Trey Morrison Is Going to Be Just Fine at Strong Safety
Morrison made his first start at strong safety on Saturday in place of the academically ineligible Myles Wolfolk and looked about as good as anyone could have hoped. His day started with a bang, as he leveled Boston College tight end Hunter Long as he came across the middle on third down, breaking up what would have been a first down and put the Eagles in a goal-to-go situation early on. He had a couple of other nice plays throughout the day, leading up to the biggest play of the day where he picked off Phil Jurkovec on the potential game-tying two-point conversion and returned it for two points to extend the Tar Heels lead back to four ahead of the onside kick. Morrison finished the day with six total tackles, all solos, and one pass breakup as he showed why the staff was so confident in him making the move there when they announced it last week.
Bateman and Thigpen Are Going to Be Aggressive This Year
In the first two games of the season, the Tar Heels have gotten a ton of pressure on the quarterback, racking up 10 sacks and 16 quarterback hurries. While getting after the quarterback is great, it puts a lot more pressure on those who drop into coverage and there were far too many guys open due to a lapse in coverage on the defensive side of the football. It makes sense that the Tar Heels want to be aggressive, but doing so too often could lead to more games like this where teams are able to pick apart the Tar Heels in the flat and along the sidelines with their tight ends and running backs.