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Heel Tough Blog: Holiday Bowl Preview- Oregon

UNC Athletics

The end to this 2022 Tar Heel football season has been a bit of a nightmare after a tremendous 9-1 start that had many dreaming of a season similar to 2015 or even better. However, a loss at home to Georgia Tech sent this team into a tailspin, punctuated by the blowout loss to Clemson in the ACC Championship Game. The team will hope to turn the season back in the right direction and close it out with a statement victory as they face the Oregon Ducks in the San Diego Credit Union Holiday Bowl.

Team Breakdowns

Tar Heels

The Tar Heels will be fighting an uphill battle in this game. Not only will they be facing a very good Oregon team, but they will be doing so shorthanded by transfers, NFL Draft declarations and coaching departures. The absences of offensive coordinator Phil Longo, offensive line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. and star wide receiver Josh Downs will add some obstacles for a Tar Heel offense that is hoping to turn things around after a rough three game stretch to close to the season. Quarterback Drake Maye, who was firmly in the mix for the Heisman Trophy following the win over Wake Forest, will look to close this season out on high note after the fits that he has had the last three outings where he has scored just three touchdowns. The hope is that he can return to the form that he showed earlier in the year where he had multiple touchdowns in each of the first ten games. He will be without Downs, but that was a situation that he faced early in the season after the star receiver sustained an injury in the season opener. The group still had plenty of success, thanks to the emerge of Kobe Paysour, who will get a chance to shine in this game, as well. Antoine Green will probably see the most targets of anyone in this game, but there needs to be more of a focus on getting the tight ends involved the way that they did early in the season, especially in the red zone. The Tar Heel running game has been solid late in the season, but, like the rest of this offense, has bogged down when they gotten in the red zone. The hope is that this group can find some answers about the direction of the unit moving forward and that Elijah Green can continue what has been a solid second half to the season. The biggest issue for this Tar Heel offense in the past three games, though, has been the play of this offensive line. In the three losses that the team suffered prior to the bowl game, the team has allowed 28.0 tackles for loss, 12.0 sacks and 65 quarterback pressures. In order for the Tar Heel to have any chance in this game, they have to restore the form that they played with earlier in the season which was serviceable enough to allow Maye to pick apart the Oregon defense the way he did to many others earlier in the season.

Defensively, this group that has struggled for the majority of the season will face some challenges with all of the transfers that have departed. The secondary is the group that will be most affected, thanks to three of the unit’s five primary starters entering the transfer portal and choosing not to play in the game. This does allow the team to get a jumpstart on figuring out what the unit will look like next season, but it will pose a major challenge as well against this vaunted Oregon passing attack. The Tar Heel defensive line has had their issues all season long, but this will be a next level challenge in this game against a stiff Oregon offensive line. Just like in the defensive backfield, this will be an opportunity to find some answers for next season and hopefully leads to the emergence of some younger pieces that can play a bigger role moving forward. This will certainly be something easier said than done for a unit that just hasn’t done much up front the entire season. The linebacking corps has been the strength of this defense all season long and this game will be another chance for the duo to show out.

The special teams unit has been solid for the majority of the season. Punter Ben Kiernan has had a strong senior season and the team has found the answer at kick returner in the form of George Pettaway. Kicker Noah Burnette will have one last shot to leave an impression before Cincinnati transfer Ryan Coe comes to campus. The punt returner spot is a question mark with both Josh Downs and Cam’Ron Kelly, the only two players to return punts in a game this season, not playing.


The Ducks, like the Tar Heels, had a disappointing finish to their regular season thanks to a collapse against rival Oregon State. This will be a chance for them to finish their season out with a bang and set the stage for preseason top ten honors and outside College Football Playoff expectations with what is coming back. The guy that will lead that charge will be quarterback Bo Nix, who enters the game off of an outstanding junior season that had him receiving some Heisman talk of his own late in the season. He has combined with Mar’Keise Irving and Noah Whittington on the ground to create one of the best rushing attacks in the country this season and that will be a major test for middling Tar Heel run defense. The shorthanded Tar Heel secondary will also receive a major test with a strong group of pass catchers that have helped propel Nix to the most successful season of his career. Wide receiver Troy Franklin will be the biggest challenge for this young secondary to figure out, but Kris Hutson and Chase Cota are nice compliments and Terrance Ferguson will cause some issues for them out of the tight end position. The strength of this offense, though, lies in the trenches where the unit has paved the way for that successful running game all season long and allowed a nation’s best 4.0 sacks the entire season. Center Alex Forsyth anchors the unit after allowing just one pressure the entire season.

The Ducks defense was a middle of the road unit in many of the major categories this season, but they will have to navigate some absences of their own. Star corner Christian Gonzalez will not play in this game after declaring for the NFL Draft, which is a blow to a secondary that has allowed teams to move with some nice success so far this season. This is still a dangerous unit, however, considering the fact that they have created 12 of the team's 16 interceptions this season, led by three from Trikweze Bridges. The linebacking corps will be without Noah Sewell, a guy that is widely regarded as one of the top linebackers in the 2023 NFL Draft, and Justin Flowe, who entered the transfer portal and has committed to Arizona, leaving the cupboard a bit bare there for this game. That unit will combine with the defensive line that looks to recover from an embarrassing 4th quarter performance against in the Oregon State game, something that was a strength of the team nearly the entire season. The defensive front has been solid, but has failed to get to the quarterback so far this season, registering just 16.0 sacks in their twelve games. Brandon Dorlus is a player worth keeping an eye on, though, considering he has 41 pressures this season.

Special teams-wise, the Ducks are a bit of a mess. Kicker Camden Lewis has had a fantastic season, but the punter position has been a complete mess with four different players holding the role at some point this season. Kris Hutson has handled the majority of both the kick and punt return duties, but has been rather unimpressive in the process and others who have gotten their opportunities haven’t been much better.

Team Stats

Tar Heels

Off. PPG: 35.0 (23rd)

Off. PYPG: 317.2 (7th)

Off. RYPG: 156.4 (63rd)

Off. TYPG: 473.6 (14th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 47.3% (T-13th)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 85.0 (107th)

Sacks Allowed: 38.0 (T-108th)

Def. PPG: 31.0 (103rd)

Def. PYPG: 276.4 (121st)

Def. RYPG: 161.9 (83rd)

Def. TYPG: 438.2 (T-116th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 41.3% (93rd)

Tackles for A Loss: 47.0 (130th)

Sacks: 16.0 (T-124th)

Interceptions: 8 (T-87th)

Turnover Margin: -1 (T-74th)

Penalties Per Game: 6.2 (T-70th)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 55.3 (76th)


Off. PPG: 39.7 (9th)

Off. PYPG: 291.4 (15th)

Off. RYPG: 216.3 (14th)

Off. TYPG: 507.8 (4th)

Off. 3rd Down %: 46.0% (22nd)

Tackles For A Loss Allowed: 48.0 (T-7th)

Sacks Allowed: 4.0 (1st)

Def. PPG: 27.4 (T-76th)

Def. PYPG: 260.6 (108th)

Def. RYPG: 125.5 (33rd)

Def. TYPG: 386.1 (75th)

Def. 3rd Down %: 48.1% (126th)

Tackles for A Loss: 49.0 (T-127th)

Sacks: 16.0 (T-124th)

Interceptions: 16 (T-9th)

Turnover Margin: +10 (T-12th)

Penalties Per Game: 6.9 (T-102nd)

Penalty Yards Per Game: 58.8 (92nd)

Injury Report

Tar Heels

OUT- British Brooks (lower leg), Tymir Brown (transfer portal), Sebastian Cheeks (upper body), Chris Collins (transfer portal), Ja’Qurious Conley (lower body), Jacolby Criswell (transfer portal), RaRa Dillworth (transfer portal), Josh Downs (NFL Draft), Storm Duck (transfer portal), Des Evans (upper body), Tony Grimes (transfer portal), Caleb Hood (upper body), Cam’Ron Kelly (transfer portal), Jahlil Taylor (lower body), Noah Taylor (lower body), Raymond Vohasek (upper body)


OUT- Popo Amuavae (foot), Brandon Buckner (transfer portal), Jay Butterfield (transfer portal), Sean Dollars (transfer portal), Byron Cardwell (transfer portal), Christian Gonzalez (NFL Draft), Jonathan Flowe (transfer portal), Justin Flowe (transfer portal), Dawson Jaramillo (transfer portal), D.J. Johnson (NFL Draft), Jackson LaDuke (transfer portal), Moliki Matavao (transfer portal), Seven McGee (transfer portal), Jabril McNeill (transfer portal), Malachi Russell (transfer portal), Noah Sewell (NFL Draft), Aaron Smith (transfer portal), Tom Snee (transfer portal), Bradyn Swinson (transfer portal), Dont’e Thornton (transfer portal), Terrell Tilmon (transfer portal), Bram Walden (transfer portal)

Projected Starting Lineups

Tar Heels Offense

QB#10 Drake Maye, RFr.

RB#21 Elijah Green, So.

WR# 5 J.J. Jones, So.

WR# 3 Antoine Green, Sr.

WR# 8 Kobe Paysour, RFr.

TE#88 Kamari Morales, Jr. OR #18 Bryson Nesbit, So. OR #81 John Copenhaver, So.

LT#72 Asim Richards, Sr.

LG#63 Ed Montilus, Sr.

C#65 Corey Gaynor, Sr.

RG#76 William Barnes, Sr.

RT#75 Spencer Rolland, Sr. Defense

NOSE#98 Kevin Hester Jr., Jr.

3-TECH# 8 Myles Murphy, Jr.

END# 5 Jahvaree Ritzie, So.

JACK#25 Kaimon Rucker, Jr.

MIKE#23 Power Echols, So.

WILL#33 Cedric Gray, Jr.

CB#29 Marcus Allen, Fr.

BS# 2 Don Chapman, Sr. OR #27 Giovanni Biggers, Sr.

FS#31 Will Hardy, Fr.

CB# 6 Lejond Cavazos, So.

STAR#16 DeAndre Boykins, So. Special Teams

K#98 Noah Burnette, So.

KOS#98 Noah Burnette, So.

P#91 Ben Kiernan, Sr.

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

H#92 Cole Maynard, RFr.

KR#23 George Pettaway, Fr.

PR#23 George Pettaway, Fr.

Oregon Offense

QB#10 Bo Nix, Sr.

RB# 0 Mar’Keise Irving, So. OR #22 Noah Whittington, So.

WR-X#11 Troy Franklin, So.

WR-Z#23 Chase Cota, Sr.

WR-SL# 1 Kris Hutson, So.

TE# 3 Terrance Ferguson, So.

LT#56 T.J. Bass, Sr.

LG#53 Ryan Walk, Sr.

C#78 Alex Forsyth, Sr.

RG#74 Steven Jones, Jr.

RT#71 Malaesala Amuavae-Laulu, Sr. Defense

DE# 3 Brandon Dorlus, Jr.

NT#91 Jordon Riley, Sr.

DT#98 Casey Rogers, Sr.

EDGE#18 Mase Funa, Jr.

MAC#21 Keith Brown, So.

MONEY#33 Jeffrey Bassa, So.

FCB#11 Trikweze Bridges, So.

FS# 7 Steve Stephens IV, Jr.

BS#19 Jamal Hill, Jr.

BCB# 8 Dontae Manning, So.

NB# 4 Bennett Williams, Sr. Special Teams

PK#49 Camden Lewis, Jr.

KO#98 Andrew Boyle, Jr.

P#80 Alex Bales, Jr.

LS#45 Karsten Battles, Sr.

H#93 Adam Barry, Sr.

KR# 1 Kris Hutson, So.

PR# 1 Kris Hutson, So.

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