2021 was a season that most Tar Heel fans will want to forget as soon as possible and they will want to do the same with the 201 Duke’s Mayo Bowl. The Tar Heels were crushed by the South Carolina Gamecocks, who entered bowl season with one of the nation’s worst offenses overall, allowing 38 points, 543 yards of total offense and 301 rushing yards to a team that was averaging 21.3 points, 320.2 total offense and 122.4 rushing yards coming into the game. The Tar Heel finish the 6-7 and without a single win away from the friendly confines of Kenan Stadium. Here is a look at who is trending up and who is trending down after Thursday’s disappointment.
The stats don’t really do Howell justice for his performance in this game. Howell threw for 205 yards and a touchdown on 12-20 passing and ran for just 3 yards on his 13 carries, but he made some great throws throughout the day and should get credit for playing in a game that he didn’t have to play in. With the touchdown pass in this game, Howell finishes his career with a touchdown pass in every single game of his career and finishes each season of his career with 3,000 passing yards and at least 35 total touchdowns. There is no denying that Howell is the greatest quarterback in Tar Heel football history.
Bateman’s stock is at an all-time low after maybe the worst defensive performance that he has coached in his time at Carolina. The Tar Heel defense was butchered by one of college football’s worst offenses, continuing the trend of this Tar Heel defense's downward trend as the season has gone along. All three levels of the unit appeared to have no answers on Thursday, especially the secondary, which parlayed the collapse to close the regular season into an even worse performance in this one against a converted wide receiver at quarterback. The stability approach seemed to be the one that Mack Brown wanted to go with this offseason, but this performance might be too much to ignore, especially in a losing season.
Amongst those who had the worst days in that Tar Heel secondary was Biggers who might have had the worst game of his career in a Tar Heel uniform. Biggers was thrown at twice in this game and both of those passes were caught, including the second long touchdown of the first quarter by Jaheim Bell where he was beaten across his face and put the Tar Heels in a big early hole. He finished the day with four total tackles and he missed two tackles, both of which led to big plays. This was a rough performance from Biggers and continues to show the importance of finding a safety in the transfer portal this offseason.
Biggers wasn’t the only defensive back that had a tough day in coverage. Grimes was beaten on the first big throw of the day to Bell where he took an odd angle while trying to make a play on the ball and instead allowed a big touchdown. He was targeted two other times throughout the game, both of which were caught meaning that South Carolina quarterbacks were 3-3 against him for 92 yards and the touchdown. Not the type of performance that you need from your No. 1 corner.
Chandler started Thursday’s game with an 11-yard run on the first offensive play of the game, but after that was relatively silent. He finished the day with just nine carries for 29 yards, a rough way to finish what was a successful super senior season with the Tar Heels. This isn’t all on Chandler because the team ran the ball just 14 times because they were playing from behind, but this was far from his best day when he had the football in his hands.
Tucker was part of another below average performance for the offensive line on Thursday to close out the season. He graded out as the worst run blocker of the starting offensive line group for the Tar Heels and in his 27 passing protection reps, he allowed one sack, one pressure and had a false start penalty, as well, on a 4th & 1 from the South Carolina 14 late in the first half.
The final two games of the regular season were extremely quiet for Green after he had a nice first three games of the second half of the season. He bounced back to finish the season with another productive performance, catching all four of his targets for 73 yards and leading the team in both categories. Green is coming back again next season and his second half of the year should give people a lot of confidence about his chances to be a more consistent second option for the Tar Heels new starting quarterback next season.
Brooks entered this game off of back-to-back career performances and with the Tar Heels longest rushing touchdown in bowl history early in the second quarter on his fourth carry of the game, he looked heading for another huge performance in this one. However, after that 63-yard scamper, Brooks had just one carry, leaving people to wonder why he did not see the field more after that, especially with the fact that he will be returning next season. These final three games have been extremely encouraging when it comes to the fact that he can be a contributor next season.
Another guy who didn’t see a lot of snaps but thrived when he was on the field was Nesbit. He was on the field for just twelve snaps but he was productive in those reps, catching both of his targets for 29 yards. Nesbit didn’t see a ton of action this season, but he was productive when he did and with Garrett Walston’s career in the books, he should see a bigger role this upcoming season.