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Heel Tough Blog: Duke’s Mayo Bowl- West Virginia Preview

Grant Halverson- Getty Images

The Tar Heels will officially close down their 2023 season on Wednesday where it began. Just like last year, the team will be looking to finish the season on a positive note after a collapse down the stretch of the season. In order to do that, the team will have to find a way to beat a West Virginia team that is feeling good about themselves and motivated to close out this surprising good season with a win all while being short handed. Here is everything you need to know about the third meeting all time between the Tar Heels and Mountaineers.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

As we said above, the Tar Heels will be without some key members of the team from the regular, meaning they will be counting on a lot of new faces to step up and help them score an important victory. The biggest area that will look different will be the offense, which will be without a ton of key members of the unit that made them one of the top units in the country again this season. It starts at quarterback, where Drake Maye sitting out will give the staff a chance to get a good look at redshirt freshman Conner Harrell, who will make his case to be the next long term quarterback for the team. While he hasn’t played any significant snaps outside of the game against Campbell earlier this season, there is a lot of hope that he provides for this offense, especially with what he can do with his legs. Unfortunately, he will not have a lot of experienced options to throw to because of opt outs and injuries. At receiver, he will have to rely on J.J. Jones and Nate McCollum who have had their moments this season but haven’t been nearly as productive down the stretch as they were earlier in the year. The good news is that some of the guys who will have to step up with the absences are guys that Harrell has been spending time building a rapport with in practice. Guys like Gavin Blackwell and Chris Culliver who have been with the second team most of the year should be guys who will play a big role in this one. Tight end is a different discussion. All four of the team’s scholarship tight ends will not be available for this one, meaning that Deems May III will take the bulk of the snaps at the position. The snaps will likely be limited, though, with a lot of four wide receiver sets on passing downs and a ton of sets with extra offensive linemen on running downs. The offensive line remains in solid shape despite center Corey Gaynor opting not to play. Willie Lampkin will kick over to replace Gaynor and William Barnes will get one last chance to start after doing so plenty over the last three years. The unit will have to do a much better job than they did in the final few games of the season against a West Virginia team that has a very productive defensive front. The unit’s main focus needs to be on run blocking so that the team can lean on star running back Omarion Hampton.

Defensively, the team doesn’t have nearly as many holes to fill, but they are significant ones. True freshman Amare Campbell will get his chance to prove he can be the starter next year alongside Power Echols, who will now be the vocal leader of the unit with Cedric Gray opting out. The secondary which showed improvement as the season went along will be mostly whole for this one, except in the slot where Alijah Huzzie remains on the shelf with a lower body injury. D.J. Jones, who is headed to the transfer portal, was nice enough to stay behind to help fill that void, but true freshman Kaleb Cost could see a good amount of snaps here as well. The key to this game, though, will be the performance of the defensive line that will be fully stocked. The room needs to play with the same fire that they did in the first game of the season against South Carolina in the same stadium if they have any hope of stopping this productive West Virginia offense. Kaimon Rucker has been great this season and hopefully, a little time off will help rejuvenate him after an exhausting season where he played a ton of snaps. He’ll need some help, though, and a guy like Myles Murphy, who will be playing in his final game before going to the NFL, might just be the person who can do it.

The special teams unit will be undergoing some changes. The main pieces in the kicking games are back with Noah Burnette coming in as one of college football’s most reliable placekickers and Tom Maginness settling into the punting role at the end of the season. The return games will have some new faces with Chris Culliver getting an opportunity to return kicks and Nate McCollum handling punts. The coverage games will have a lot of new faces due to transfers, something that might actually be a good thing after the struggles the team had in both areas.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers come into this one off an unexpected fourth place finish in the Big 12 where they finished with eight wins, including six in conference play. The Mountaineers are led by an explosive offense that ranks inside the top 30 in total offense. It all starts with the ground game where the team had three different with at least 700 yards rushing in the regular season. The team will not have leading rusher C.J. Donaldson due to injury, but Jahiem White averaged 8.2 yards per carry and has been handling the role of lead back well down the stretch of the season. Quarterback Garrett Greene has also been a huge part of the running game as he is one of those with over 700 rushing yards and is the team leader in rushing touchdowns. Greene hasn’t been quite as productive through the air as some of the team’s recent quarterbacks have been, but he has done a good job of distributing the football without turning the ball over. He has done a great job of spreading the football around to all of his receivers, which will make it a challenge for this Tar Heel defense if they can’t get pressure on the quarterback. Former NC State wide receiver Devin Carter will be the biggest threat on the outside, while tight end Kole Taylor will provide a stiff test for the Tar Heels in the middle of the field. The offensive line will be without their center, Zach Frazier, as well after he suffered a serious lower leg injury late in the season finale against Baylor. Even with his absence, the group will still be in really good shape led by tackles Wyatt Milum and Doug Nester.

Defensively, West Virginia has had their struggles, primarily in the passing game. The secondary has two corners who have allowed a 51.2% completion rate or less, led by All-American Beanie Bishop Jr., who pulled down four interceptions but allowed 524 yards and four touchdowns as well. The defense as a whole allowed 25 touchdowns through the air, 19 of which were allowed by the starting secondary. That’s why the unit will rely heavily on its line to control the line of trenches, something it has done well this season. Mike Lockhart, the standout of the unit out of his tackle spot, won’t play in the bowl game after transferring to SMU, meaning that the unit will rely heavily on edge rushers Jason Bartlett and Sean Martin to control what happens up front. The linebacker group is a solid one that is led by Lee Kpogba, who might be the best player on the entire defense.

The special teams unit has been a very sound one so far this season. Michael Hayes has missed just three of his 17 kicks on the season, while Oliver Straw has had a very solid season, as well. The return units haven’t been anything special, but they haven’t cost them yet this season.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 36.6 (15th)

Off. PYPG: 306.8 (8th)

Off. RYPG: 197.1 (18th)

Off. TYPG: 503.9 (4th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 49.1% (10th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 65.0 (T-47th)

Sacks Allowed: 30.0 (T-91st)

Def. PPG: 27.1 (74th)

Def. PYPG: 242.3 (101st)

Def. RYPG: 163.1 (89th)

Def. TYPG: 405.4 (98th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 39.2% (68th)

Tackles for A Loss: 70.0 (T-65th)

Sacks: 27.0 (T-55th)

Interceptions: 12 (T-32nd)

Turnover Margin: +7 (T-22nd)

Penalties Per Game: 7.1 (T-115th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 66.8 (T-125th)

West Virginia

Off. PPG: 31.6 (40th)

Off. PYPG: 203.8 (T-94th)

Off. RYPG: 234.3 (4th)

Off. TYPG: 438.2 (27th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 40.4% (57th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 59.0 (T-30th)

Sacks Allowed: 9.0 (T-2nd)

Def. PPG: 27.5 (79th)

Def. PYPG: 239.9 (93rd)

Def. RYPG: 144.3 (53rd)

Def. TYPG: 384.3 (71st)

Def. 3rd Down %: 38.5% (T-61st)

Tackles for Loss: 73.0 (T-48th)

Sacks: 26.0 (T-66th)

Interceptions: 9 (T-85th)

Turnover Margin: 0 (T-67th)

Penalties Per Game: 4.8 (T-21st)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 44.3 (37th)

Keys to the Game

Match the Energy of West Virginia

A big factor in the outcome of bowl games is which team brings more energy to the game and with the different finishes that the two teams had to the regular season, it would make sense for the Mountaineers to have more energy. In order for the Tar Heels to have any chance in this one they’ll have to match that energy. With all of the new faces that will get the opportunity to play significant roles in this one, this shouldn’t be too much to ask for.

Win the Line of Scrimmage, Especially in the Run Game

Winning the line of scrimmage is an important part of every game, but it is extremely important in this one, especially on run downs. The offensive line needs to be able to get downhill and clear running lanes for Omarion Hampton, who the team needs to have a big game in order to pull out the victory. On the other side of the ball, the Tar Heels defensive front needs to step up and have one of their best games of the season against the best rushing attack the team has seen all season long.

Create Turnovers

The Mountaineers have turned the ball over just thirteen times this season, but the Tar Heels will need to create some in this one to have a chance at pulling the upset. The good news is, the Tar Heels are inside the top 30 in forced turnovers and have shown the capability of being able to create them at key moments. They’ll have to do that in this game if they want to leave Charlotte with a victory.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- Kedrick Bingley-Jones (transfer portal), DeAndre Boykins (lower body), Deuce Caldwell (transfer portal), Lejond Cavazos (undisclosed), Sebastian Cheeks (transfer portal), Doc Chapman (transfer portal), Ryan Coe (transfer portal), John Copenhaver (transfer portal), Jacolbe Cowan (lower body), Corey Gaynor (NFL Draft), Cedric Gray (NFL Draft), Andre Greene Jr. (transfer portal), Elijah Green (transfer portal), Malaki Hamrick (lower body), Will Hardy (lower body), Tayon Holloway (transfer portal), Alijah Huzzie (lower body), Justin Kanyuk (transfer portal), Ben Kiernan (lower body), Drake Maye (NFL Draft), Kamari Morales (transfer portal), Bryson Nesbit (lower body), Kobe Paysour (lower body), George Pettaway (transfer portal), Julien Randolph (lower body), Zach Rice (lower body), Russell Tabor (transfer portal), Tez Walker (NFL Draft)

West Virginia

OUT- Jeremiah Aaron (transfer portal), Cortez Braham (transfer portal), Lance Dixon (transfer portal), C.J. Donaldson (undisclosed), Zach Frazier (lower leg), Theo Grabill (transfer portal), James Heard (transfer portal), Justin Johnson Jr. (transfer portal), Danny King (transfer portal), Trey Lathan (leg), Mike Lockhart (transfer portal), Davis Mallinger (transfer portal), Hershey McLaurin (transfer portal), Ja’Shaun Poke (transfer portal), Christion Stokes (transfer portal), Andrew Wilson-Lamp (transfer portal)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels


QB#15 Conner Harrell, RFr.

RB#28 Omarion Hampton, So.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 6 Nate McCollum, Jr.

WR# 2 Gavin Blackwell, So.

TE#82 Deems May III, RFr.

LT#61 Diego Pounds, So.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Gr.

C#53 Willie Lampkin, Jr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Gr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Gr.


NOSE#98 Kevin Hester Jr., Sr. OR # 0 Tomari Fox, Sr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Sr. OR # 5 Jahvaree Ritzie, Jr.

END#10 Des Evans, Sr.

JACK#25 Kaimon Rucker, Sr.

MIKE#17 Amare Campbell, Fr.

WILL#23 Power Echols, Jr.

CB# 9 Armani Chatman, Gr.

BS# 1 Stick Lane, Gr.

FS# 2 Don Chapman, Sr.

CB#29 Marcus Allen, So.

STAR#21 Kaleb Cost, Fr. OR #26 D.J. Jones, Sr.

Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, Jr.

KOS#37 Liam Boyd, RFr.

P#96 Tom Maginness, So.

LS K- #62 Spencer Triplett, So.P- #61 Drew Little, Sr.

H#92 Cole Maynard, So.

KR# 3 Chris Culliver, Fr.

PR# 6 Nate McCollum, Jr.

West Virginia


QB# 6 Garrett Greene, Jr.

RB#22 Jahiem White, Fr.

WR-X#29 Preston Fox, So.

WR-Z# 7 Traylon Ray, Fr.

WR-H# 5 Devin Carter, Sr.

TE#87 Kole Taylor, Jr.

LT#74 Wyatt Milum, Jr.

LG#55 Tomas Rimac, So.

C#50 Brandon Yates, Jr.

RG#66 Ja'Quay Hubbard, Jr.

RT#72 Doug Nester, Sr.


DE#91 Sean Martin, Jr.

NT#54 Fatorma Mulbah, Jr.

DT#96 Edward Vesterinen, Jr.

BANDIT#10 Jared Bartlett, Jr.

WLB# 1 Lee Kpogba, Sr.

MLB#15 Ben Cutter, Fr.

SPEAR#24 Marcis Floyd, Sr.

LCB#14 Malachi Ruffin, Sr.

CS#12 Anthony Wilson, Jr.

FS# 2 Aubrey Burks, Jr.

RCB#11 Beanie Bishop Jr., Sr.

Special Teams

PK#22 Michael Hayes, Jr.

KO#22 Michael Hayes, Jr.

P#41 Oliver Straw, So.

LS#43 Austin Brinkman, Jr.

H#19 Graeson Malashevich, Jr.

KR#11 Beanie Bishop Jr., Sr.

PR#29 Preston Fox, So.

Game Information

Location: Bank of America Stadium, Charlotte, NC

Time: 5:30 PM


Radio: Tar Heel Sports Network (check local affiliates)


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