The second half of the Tar Heels 2021 season gets going on Saturday night in South Bend, as the team looks to overcome what was a less than stellar 4-3 start to the year. The most disappointing part of the slow start has been the lack of consistency from so many position groups and guys that the team was counting on to play a big role this season. There are a bunch of guys who simply have to play better moving forward and today we look at the five players that the Tar Heels need to see step up in the second half of this 2021 season.
Gemmel was expected to slide in and take over as the leader of this defense without much issue. While he is still one of the leaders in tackles for the Tar Heels this season, Gemmel hasn’t been the dominant force for the team in the middle that the team needed him to be. If they are going to take a significant step forward to compete with the likes of Notre Dame, Wake Forest and Pittsburgh, they need to see Gemmel become that consistent producer that can help mask some of the team’s other inconsistencies, especially in run defense.
Chandler may lead the Tar Heels in rushing, but this is far from a perfect start for him. The bulk of his yards have come from two games so far, but outside of that, he has been rather average. This offense is searching for some help outside of Sam Howell and Josh Downs and is also at its best when they can run the football consistently. He definitely needs some help from the offensive line, but if he could have a big second half of the season, that could go a long way for an offense that just hasn’t gotten things fully rolling this season.
All offseason, we heard so much about the focus of the defensive front for this team being on winning the 1-on-1 battles and not having to rely on always scheming pressure. Unfortunately, that has not translated so far, leading to an up and down start for this defense front overall. The Tar Heels will need to be able to put pressure on the quarterbacks that they will face going forward or they will get picked apart and Fox is the player that needs to lead that charge. He came back for his super senior season for a reason and he needs to show why moving forward this year.
The Tar Heels will face four of the best passing attacks that they will face this season on the back half of this schedule and McMichael has had his struggles at times against some of the lesser quarterbacks that the team has faced so far. If the team wants to pull a couple of upsets down the stretch, they need McMichael to be better than he has been so far this year, especially when tackling in the open field. He also needs to be better at playing those 50/50 balls going forward, something that he has had some issues with in each of the past two seasons.
The Tar Heel offense is in desperate need of another target in the passing game to emerge besides Josh Downs and preferably from one of the outside receivers. The reason we target Simmons here is that he seemed to be the most talked about following the conclusion of camp and was also the guy most talked about when it came to deep threats on the team, something that is also a big need for this offense. It starts with him creating separation, which he hasn’t really been able to do all season, and coming down with the contested 50/50 balls that are a big part of this offense, as well.