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Heel Tough Blog: Georgia State Preview

The Tar Heel 2021 season opener against Virginia Tech was disappointing in so many different ways, but the team now looks to regroup in a sold out home opener against the Georgia State Panthers. While this may look like one of the Tar Heels easier games on the schedule, it will be important for the Tar Heels to not only win this one, but look good in doing so and find some answers to the question marks that surfaced along the offensive line and in the receiving game. The hope is that, even though this is a team that they shouldn’t take lightly, this can be a game where the team can flex a little bit of muscle.

Team Breakdown

Tar Heels

This team was far from a well-oiled machine last week against Virginia Tech but this is still a team that has plenty of expectations for this season. Quarterback Sam Howell will lead an offense that will be looking to bounce back this weekend and get this potent offense back on track, but he needs some help to do so. His veteran offensive line simply has to do a better job of protecting him after allowing six sacks against the Hokies and one would hope that the switch of Asim Richards and Joshua Ezeudu back to the spots that they played a year ago will help. Brian Anderson’s return to the lineup would also be huge for the success of this unit that struggled with communication a week ago. The pass catchers are another group that the Tar Heels need to see step up around their quarterback starting this week. Josh Downs looked great in the opener, but the rest of the unit failed to create much separation and had some catchable balls that they failed to haul in. Guys like Emery Simmons, Antoine Green and Garrett Walston are the leaders of the group that needs to step up and make some plays to help this team move the football with more consistency. The running game is the biggest key to this offense’s success, though. The offensive coaching staff simply has to run the ball more often than they did last week, especially with how encouraging the flashes were from Ty Chandler and D.J. Jones in Blacksburg.

Defensively, the Tar Heels got off to a slow start against Virginia Tech on Friday, but they rebounded nicely and provided plenty of reasons for positivity. The secondary was probably the unit that had the best night overall. Mack Brown said on Monday that there were some 50/50 balls that the defensive backs needed to make more plays on, but overall the unit looked good led by strong performances from the two starting safeties, Trey Morrison and Ja’Qurious Conley. At linebacker, both Jeremiah Gemmel and Eugene Asante looked much better in the second half of the game and should only improve going forward. The defensive front was pushed around a lot early, but eventually the unit settled in thanks to veterans like Raymond Vohasek and Tomon Fox. The group also got a boost from some of the rotational pieces like Kaimon Rucker and Jahvaree Ritzie, players who should start seeing more reps going forward. The defense as a whole was said to have more depth and talent and that was evident in that second half against the Hokies.

The special teams unit wasn’t needed all that often but had some success when they were. Grayson Atkins hit his lone field goal attempt of the night and Ben Kiernan had a solid night punting the football. The return units didn’t get many opportunities, but they made any major mistakes from either of those groups. The same could be said for the other units on special teams, although the punt protection group did allow the punt block units from Virginia Tech to get close a couple of times.

Georgia State

The Panthers did not have a great showing by any stretch of the imagination against Army, but this is a team that just a couple of years ago upset Tennessee and returns 19 starters from a year ago, including all eleven on the offensive side of the football. Quarterback Cornelius Brown returns after a solid redshirt freshman freshman season and does pose a dual threat, something that has hurt the Tar Heels in the past. He hopes to have his top receiver from a year ago back for this game in Sam Pinckney after he missed the Army game while in COVID protocol and reunite the trio at wide receiver that was so successful for the Panthers a year ago. The running game returns all of its production from a year ago, led by a trio of seniors, including last year’s leading rusher Destin Coates. The offensive line unit returns intact, but will have to do a better job of protecting Brown after they allowed seven tackles for loss and three sacks in the opener.

It’s hard to take a lot out of the Panthers first game defensively considering they faced the Army triple option, but this was a solid defensive unit a year ago. The defensive back group is the most experienced as it returns every starter from a year ago and even some important depth pieces from a group that led a defense that finished with 12 interceptions and 44 pass deflections a year ago. The defensive front has a lot of experience and is led by Hardrick Willis and Jeffrey Clark who are leaders in tackles for loss and sacks from the group that returns from a year ago. The linebacking corps is the most inexperienced group defensively, but their leading returning tackler, Blake Carroll, is back to lead the group.

The Panthers special teams unit appears to be in good shape with placekicker Noel Ruiz back after a productive season and punter Michael Hayes looking good in his first game after a solid 2020. Quavian White is back to handle both return duties, but doesn’t pose that much of a threat if you go off of his 2020 production and he missed the opener while in COVID protocol.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 17.0 (T-108th)

Off. PYPG: 208.0 (72nd)

Off. RYPG: 146.0 (74th)

Off. TYPG: 354.0 (86th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 20.0% (T-119th)

Def. PPG: 10.0 (T-21st)

Def. PYPG: 169.0 (40th)

Def. RYPG: 127.0 (T-67th)

Def. TYPG: 296.0 (42nd)

Def. 3rd Down %: 46.2 (97th)

Sacks: 2.0 (T-51st)

Interceptions: 1 (T-38th)

Turnover Margin: -2 (T-101st)

Georgia State

Off. PPG: 10.0 (T-108th)

Off. PYPG: 129.0 (114th)

Off. RYPG: 48.0 (T-118th)

Off. TYPG: 177.0 (125th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 40.0% (T-58th)

Def. PPG: 43.0 (T-115th)

Def. PYPG: 98.0 (T-10th)

Def. RYPG: 258.0 (114th)

Def. TYPG: 356.0 (64th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 62.5% (T-118th)

Sacks: 0.0 (T-110th)

Interceptions: 0 (T-74th)

Turnover Margin: -2 (T-101st)

Keys To The Game

Utilize the Running Game

When this Tar Heel offense is at its best, it is when they have the ability to run the football and the team simply abandoned it this past Friday. Both Ty Chandler and D.J. Jones made things happen with the football in their hands, so this coaching staff needs to trust them a little bit more. If the can run the football well, that will take some pressure off the passing game and allow for more separation for the receivers who will see one-on-one coverage more often as a result.

Communicate on the Offensive Line

One of the most important notes that came out of the press conferences this week was the fact one of the big reasons for the failures that the Tar Heels had in communication on the offensive line. A lot of this has been attributed to the absence of Brian Anderson, but the unit simply has to be better, especially with no guarantee that he will play this week.

Win the 50/50 Balls

This is an area on both sides of the football where the Tar Heels are wanting to see improvement in this one. Offensively, the Tar Heel wide receivers had a lot of opportunities on 50/50 balls and they simply didn’t make the plays on Friday night. Defensively, there were some similar opportunities that the team couldn’t come down with that led to some big plays for Virginia Tech. Both sides need to win more of those balls this weekend against the Panthers.

Injury Report

Tar Heels

DOUBT- Beau Corrales (sports hernia)

QUEST- Brian Anderson (lower body), Khafre Brown (lower body)

PROB- Storm Duck (lower body)

Georgia State

QUEST- Jontrey Hunter (COVID protocol), Quavian White (COVID protocol)

PROB- Sam Pinckney (COVID protocol)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB# 7 Sam Howell, So.

RB#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

WR# 0 Emery Simmons, Jr.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR#11 Josh Downs, So.

TE#84 Garrett Walston, Sr.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Jr.

LG#75 Joshua Ezeudu, Jr.

C#69 Quiron Johnson, Sr.

RG#73 Marcus McKethan, Sr.

RT#74 Jordan Tucker, Sr. Defense

END#56 Tomari Fox, So.

NOSE#51 Raymond Vohasek, Jr.

TACKLE# 8 Myles Murphy, So.

OLB#12 Tomon Fox, Sr.

ILB#44 Jeremiah Gemmel, Sr.

ILB# 7 Eugene Asante, Jr.

OLB#17 Chris Collins, Jr.

CB#20 Tony Grimes, So.

FS# 4 Trey Morrison, Jr.

SS# 0 Ja’Qurious Conley, So.

CB#1 Kyler McMichael, Jr. OR #29 Storm Duck, So.

NB# 2 Don Chapman, Jr. Special Teams

K#17 Grayson Atkins, Sr.

KOS#95 Jonathan Kim, Jr.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

LS#61 Drew Little, Jr.

H#91 Ben Kiernan, Jr.

KR#19 Ty Chandler, Sr.

PR#11 Josh Downs, So.

Georgia State Offense

QB# 4 Cornelius Brown IV, So.

RB#17 Destin Coates, Sr.

WR-X#83 Cornelius McKoy, Sr.

WR- Z#15 Sam Pinckney, Jr.

WR-Y# 0 Terrance Dixon, Sr.

TE# 5 Roger Carter, Sr.

LT#73 Travis Glover, Jr.

LG#75 Shamarious Gilmore, Sr.

C#62 Malik Sumter, Sr.

RG#64 Pat Bartlett, Sr.

RT#77 Johnathan Bass, Jr. Defense

DE#54 Tre Moore, Jr.

NT#52 Dontae Wilson, Sr.

DE#90 Hardrick Willis, Sr.

OLB#10 Jacorey Crawford, Sr.

ILB#42 Blake Carroll, Sr.

ILB#48 Justin Abraham, RFr.

OLB#47 Jhi’Shawn Taylor, Sr.

CB# 5 Bryquice Brown, So.

S# 3 Chris Bacon, Sr.

S#34 Antavious Lane, So.

CB#27 Jaylon Jones, Sr. Special Teams

K#92 Noel Ruiz, Sr.

KOS#92 Noel Ruiz, Sr.

P#39 Michael Hayes, So.

LS#66 Seth Glausier, Jr.

H#39 Michael Hayes, So.

KR# 0 Terrance Dixon, Sr.

PR# 0 Terrance Dixon, Sr.


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