In what might have been the Tar Heels most important game of the 2019 season, the team headed down south to Atlanta to take on a struggling Georgia Tech team. The Tar Heels put together arguably the most complete victory of the season with a 38-22 win that advanced the Tar Heels to 3-3, but more importantly 2-1 in the ACC, on the season. Let’s take a look at what we learn about the Tar Heels in their trip to Bobby Dodd Stadium on Saturday.
Time To Trust Sam Howell with This Offense
For the past few weeks, we have been begging Phil Longo to open this offense up and put some trust in a player in Sam Howell that has shown that he deserves it. Longo did just that on Saturday and it paid off big time with Howell throw for a career high 377 yards and four touchdowns and helping lead this Tar Heel team up and down the field with ease. It probably helps that Georgia Tech is as bad as they are defensively, but Howell continued to make the deep throws that he has thrived on this season and worked through his progression about as well as he has all season after the early interception. This staff has to make this passing led offense a more common theme in the second half of the season, especially after Saturday’s success.
This Offensive Line Is Progressing
Heading into last week’s game against Clemson, there were some major concerns about this Tar Heel offensive line. However, those concerns have been relieved thanks to back-to-back great performances for the unit, led by Charlie Heck, who had another strong day despite his two holding penalties that were questionable to say the least. The hogmollies up front allowed just one sack on Saturday after allowing 19 in their first five games and paved the way for a Tar Heel running game that put together another strong performance on Saturday. Coming into this season, we knew that this young unit would have some struggles early on. Even with Nick Polino out of the lineup, this unit is starting to round into form and will look to build on the momentum after the bye to help this offense continue it’s progression.
Secondary Starting to Become Concern
While the defense continues to be an improved overall unit, injuries are tearing apart a once promising secondary. Prior to the game, true freshman Cam’Ron Kelly was declared out for the remainder of the season with a torn ACL suffered last week, leaving fellow true freshman Don Chapman, who played his first defensive snaps of the season last week against Clemson, as the starter at safety. While Chapman pulled in his first career interception, he also had some moments where he was out of position and took a terrible angle to try and make a play on Georgia Tech’s late passing touchdown. At corner, Greg Ross had a tough day after having to play most of the game because of an injury to Trey Morrison in the first quarter. That leaves Myles Dorn and D.J. Ford as the only starters who remain from the season opener and both of those guys have been struggling in pass coverage so far this season. If there is a unit that needs this bye, it’s the secondary, who will be looking to get healthy, or at least as healthy as they possibly can, for the stretch run.
Receiving Corps Drop Problems Need to Be Addressed
The drops were a big issue for the Tar Heel receivers a year ago and seemed to be resolved early in the season. Last week against Clemson, though, they began to resurface and Saturday they prevented the Tar Heels from running away from the Yellow Jackets in the first half. The receiving corps recovered to have a strong second half, but Lonnie Galloway has to make sure that the drop problems that plagued them a year ago don't stick around for the stretch run of this 2019 season.
Running Tandem Needs Recognition
Entering 2019, many around the Tar Heel football program were of the belief that this unit was one of the more underrated in the country. After their best performance of the season on Saturday, it’s time for the national media to take notice. Javonte Williams continues to run as hard as any running back in the country, resulting in a 144 yard performance against the Yellow Jackets and while Michael Carter didn’t have the best performance of his season but still ran for 68 yards on Saturday. Together this season, the two have combined for 879 yards on the ground and one of the two has ran for at least 90 yards in all but one game. The Tar Heels have one of the best running back tandems in the ACC and one of the better ones in all of college football and it’s time for people to take notice.
This 2019 Team Has A Shot in the Coastal
This team did exactly what it needed to do today to show that it will be a competitor in the ACC Coastal race in the second half of the season. This defense continues to show improvement under Jay Bateman and Saturday was a significant step forward for this young offense. The Heels now get a bye week to allow them to get healthy in a secondary and along an offensive line that has been decimated by injuries early in the season. Ending the losing streak and gaining some needed confidence was a must and now the Tar Heels head into a more manageable stretch of the season with some momentum. The Coastal is a complete crapshoot as always, maybe outside of Virginia, who looks to be the real deal, but is still hard to trust with their recent history. If the Tar Heels can put together a couple of good wins against Virginia Tech and Duke when they return from the bye, they will have themselves a chance to be in the driver's seat in a massive matchup with Virginia. At the least, this team will be a factor in the race for the first time in three years it appears.
Mack Brown is Continuing to Change the Mindset
Does this not feel like a game that the Tar Heels would have lost over the last few seasons? Following a game against Clemson where the team came up short despite putting everything they had into the game, the Tar Heels responded with another strong performance effort-wise, something that likely wouldn’t have happened the last two seasons. This won’t be a game that anyone will remember when they look back at this Tar Heel rebuild, but this game showed a lot of progress for the direction of this Tar Heel football program.