Saturday was Senior Day in Kenan Stadium, as nineteen players stepped on the home turf for the final time. Despite rainy conditions and the worst home environment of the season, the Tar Heels came out ready to send this senior class out the right way and did just that with a 56-7 win over the Mercer Bears. Here is what we learned about this Tar Heel team in Saturday’s win.
Sam Howell Is Well On His Way to Being the Greatest Tar Heel Quarterback Ever
Entering Saturday’s game, Howell was just one touchdown pass short of tying Mitch Trubisky for the single season school record and one short of tying current Clemson quarterback Trevor Lawrence for the single season record for touchdown passes by a true freshman. He broke both records in the second quarter when he hit Jake Bargas for a four-yard touchdown pass. He would add another touchdown before halftime on the deep pass to Emery Simmons before sitting out the second half with the Tar Heels up 42 points on the Bears. When Howell won the starting job back in August, we knew that it was likely the start of a special career for him. I don’t think anyone saw this coming, though.
The Offense is Ready to Try and Carry This Team to a Bowl Game
While the defense had their best game of the season on Saturday, but that was expected against a far superior FCS team. The offense, though, continued what has been a steady progression into one of the countries more lethal offenses. The Tar Heels finished with 537 yards of total offense, including 347 yards in the first half. Michael Carter led the way for the Tar Heels rushing attack that ran for 376 yards on Saturday, totaling 159 yards and three touchdowns on just nine carries, and the team’s five rushing touchdowns actually exceeded the teams number in the first ten games of the season. The passing game was once again driven by big plays, as the Tar Heels passing game averaged 14.6 yards per completion, the sixth straight game that the team has averaged over 10.0 yards per completion. A struggling red zone offense had one of their best days of the season, as well, as they converted all four of their red zone trips into touchdowns. This Tar Heel offense will head into next Saturday’s matchup with NC State averaging 35.0 points per game since the midseason bye week and looks to be ready for another game where they will be counted on to put points on the board.
The Tar Heels Have a Bright Future
With the Tar Heels scoring their most points in a first half since a 2013 game against Old Dominion, we got a look at some of the young talent that will be part of the future of this Tar Heel team going forward. Linebacker Eugene Asante replaced star linebacker Chazz Surratt shortly before the half and looked great, finishing with eight total tackles to lead the team and flying around the field to make plays. Fellow linebacker Khadry Jackson took over for Jeremiah Gemmel after halftime and finished with six total tackles of his own, showcasing his sideline-to-sideline ability, as well. Defensive end Raymond Vohasek had his best performance of his young career, racking up five total tackles, including 2.0 tackles for a loss and 1.0 sack. Wide receiver Emery Simmons caught his first career touchdown pass after subbing in for Beau Corrales late in the first half and played well into the second half. Josh Henderson got his first action of the season on offense and turned his 13 second half carries into 98 yards and showed he could make some noise next year if he can win the No. 3 running back role behind Javonte Williams and Michael Carter. The young guys flashed on Saturday and gave fans some real hope about the direction of this program going forward.
Dazz Newsome Should Be Back Against NC State Next Week
In a shocking turn of events, starting slot receiver Dazz Newsome was suspended and missed Saturday’s game after oversleeping for a practice earlier this week. Newsome entered the day as the Tar Heels leading receiver and while he wasn’t missed too badly against the Bears on Saturday, the Tar Heel offense needs their leading receiver to be active against the rival Wolfpack. Mack Brown said in the postgame that he told Newsome if he did everything right up until the meeting on Sunday he would be active for this week of practice and be on track to play this coming Saturday. Let’s hope that the case.