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Heel Tough Blog: Florida A&M Recap

Rob Kinnan- USA Today Sports

After some uncertainty about the status of the game on Friday, the Tar Heels got their 2022 campaign underway on Saturday night in Kenan Stadium with a 56-24 win over the Florida A&M Rattlers. The Rattlers put up an impressive fight, especially early, with all that was missing, but two important turnovers from them and a strong second half on the ground for the Tar Heels allowed them to score the birthday victory for Mack Brown. Here are my biggest takeaways from Saturday night’s season opening win.

Drake Maye Impresses in First Game

Coming into the game, there was talk that we would likely see both quarterbacks early in the game for Tar Heels, but Maye simply wasn’t having that. He played about as complete a game as you could ask for in his first start, throwing for a program record five touchdowns for a quarterback in their first career start. He finished the night with 297 passing yards and those five touchdowns on 29 of 37 passing and ran for 55 yards on four carries. His ability to spread the ball around resembled exactly what he did in high school as did the ability to layer the football. He showed some nice touch on his passes at all three levels and moved the pocket well when pressure came. He didn’t show the wheels often, but when he did, you could see the speed that could cause issues when he gets into the open field. Next weekend will be a huge test on the road in Boone, but this record-setting performance makes it hard not to feel confident in the redshirt freshman heading in.

True Freshman Running Backs Show Glimpse Into the Future

Both Omarion Hampton and George Pettaway were guys that Tar Heel fans were hoping to see a lot of on Saturday and they got their wish and more. Both players looked outstanding in their first game in Chapel Hill, combining for 152 yards and three touchdowns on the night to lead a running back group that had a strong night overall. Hampton's 101 yards on the ground made him the first Tar Heel player since 1946 to run for 100 or more yards in their first career game. Hampton displayed the combination of speed and power that has many excited on his two touchdown runs, while Pettaway did the same with quickness and shiftiness. There were plenty of comparisons between these two and other great running back duos from Tar Heel lore before they took the field tonight, but after this performance, it’s hard not to think these guys won’t at least have major impacts on the team this season.

Tight Ends Make a Major Impact

We’ve been hearing about getting the tight ends more involved in the offense for the better part of three years and on Saturday night they found a way to get them involved in a big way. The trio of Kamari Morales, Bryson Nesbit and John Copenhaver combined for eight catches for 130 yards and two touchdowns, creating tremendous separation at all levels of the field. We said that this was a group that needed to step up, especially early in the season, with a new quarterback and they did just that.

Cleanliness Not a Problem for the Tar Heels

There were a lot of things that the Tar Heels needed cleaned up from a year ago and they did that for the most part. The Tar Heels did not turn the ball over in a game where the offense featured a lot of inexperienced players, something that was an issue in some of the early season losses last year. A season-long problem a year ago were the penalties, but they weren’t an issue at all on Saturday. The Tar Heels finished the night with just five penalties for 45 yards, two of which came on the final offensive drive of the game with the result in hand. The team also did a much better job of protecting the quarterback than they did a year ago, not allowing a single sack after allowing the third most of any team in the nation last season. There are still some things that need work for this 2022 Tar Heel football team, but the performance in these three areas has to be extremely encouraging.

Defense Leaves Many Concerned Heading to Boone

It wasn’t all smooth sailing for the Tar Heels on Saturday, though, primarily on the defensive side of the ball. The quick passing game from Florida A&M caused immediate issues for the team, as did the lack of tackling in the flat, something that hopefully has a lot to do with some normal first game tackling struggles. The secondary had issues in coverage throughout the night, just giving the Florida A&M receivers way too much room to work with, making the first half pitch and catch for the Rattlers passing game. It didn’t help that the defensive line still got pushed around at times by an offensive line that was shorthanded coming in and suffered a couple of injuries during the first half. It is the first game of the season, so there is time to adjust, but the anxiety about this defense won’t disappear as easily as some thought it would.


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