The Tar Heels picked up their first win of the 2022 season in last night's opener in Chapel Hill. In the midst, some new standouts emerged while some question marks remain heading to Appalachian State. Here is a look at the Week 0 stock report for Tar Heel football.
Maye left no doubt about the staff's decision on Monday with his performance last night. He threw for 297 yards and five touchdowns on 29-37 passing. He became the first quarterback to throw for five touchdowns in his first career start in program history and just the second quarterback in the past 15 seasons to throw for five touchdowns and complete 75% of their passes in their first career start. This was the perfect start to instill the confidence needed for next weekend’s trip to Boone.
It didn’t take much time for Hampton to make his impact felt in the Tar Heel backfield. Despite not starting the game, he led the team in all three major rushing categories, running for 101 yards and two touchdowns on 14 carries. He became the first Tar Heel freshman to run for 100+ yards in their first game since program legend Charlie “Choo Choo” Justice did so back in 1946. It’s hard to imagine that he won’t be the starter next weekend after that performance.
We heard that this tight end group was so loaded that the team would see some two and even three tight end sets this year and the group showed why on Saturday. Sophomore Bryson Nesbit was outstanding and led the team for more of the night in receiving prior to the late touchdown by Josh Downs. Kamari Morales had a fast start to the night, catching the opening touchdown down the seam and hauling in another important third-down conversion. Meanwhile, John Copenhaver had a career night for himself, catching two passes for 44 yards, including the longest passing play of the evening. This unit has been looking to break out ever since Longo arrived to Chapel Hill and it feels like this may have been the start of that.
Echols was one of the players we looking forward to seeing the most on Saturday night defensively and he did not disappoint. He was easily the most impactful player for this Tar Heel defense, leading the team in tackles with ten, nine of which were registered as solos. He also led the team in tackles for loss with 2.0, one of which was a sacks. This was a tremendous performance from him, especially in the first game of the season, and provides something to be excited after a concerning start from the defense overall.
There were high hopes for this Tar Heel secondary coming into the season, but they were picked apart by Florida A&M on Saturday night. Rattlers quarterback Jeremy Moussa threw for 279 yards and two touchdowns on 28-38 passing with the majority of that production coming in that first half. The Tar Heel defense as a whole made things too easy at times for Moussa, who certainly deserves some credit as well, but the Tar Heel secondary was the biggest reason for the success on Saturday night. The injury to Tony Grimes on the first drive of the game certainly hurt, but rest of the group simply struggled with spacing making it pitch and catch for the Rattlers passing game for the majority of the evening. The group as a whole also struggled tackling in space, something they were challenged to do a lot of early with the Rattlers use of the quick passing game. This is the unit that must improve most heading up to Boone this season.
The member of the secondary that struggled the most on Saturday night was clearly Balfour. The redshirt freshman corner was targeted ten times by the Rattlers, seven of which were caught for 103 yards and a touchdown. It may have just been the first game of the season, but this was an extremely concerning performance ahead of next week. The hope now has to be that Grimes and Lejond Cavazos, who missed the game because of injury, can return for this weekend.
Balfour wasn’t the only corner that struggled on Saturday night. Duck was targeted eleven times and allowed eight of those to be caught for 77 yards and allowed 25 yards after the catch. He did pull down an important interception for the team before halftime, but this was not the best game for a guy that the Tar Heels are hoping can finally build upon that freshman season after all the injury issues he has had.
We have been talking a lot about the struggles of the Tar Heel secondary, but there was one member of the unit who shined. Boykins had a big night out the STAR position, finishing with four tackles, a tackle for loss and recovering the fumble to create the second turnover of the night. He also had the best night of any player in coverage, being targeted four times, allowing just one catch for zero yards and breaking up one pass. Boykins wasn’t talked about much in the preseason, but he will certainly be someone on Tar Heel fans’ radars moving forward.
Pettaway didn’t see nearly the amount of snaps that Hampton did, but still made a significant impact. He ran for 51 yards and a touchdown on four carries, including his highlight reel fourth quarter touchdown that put the Tar Heels back up three scores and allowed them to pull away. Expect him to combine with Hampton as a big part of this Tar Heel backfield this season.
This group didn’t play terribly on Saturday night, but they weren’t able to dominate the way that many thought they would against the Rattler offensive line that was ravaged by ineligibility and injuries. The Rattlers only ran for 56 yards on 27 carries, which is certainly encouraging, but the defensive line wasn’t able to get a consistent pass rush once again. Credit has to be given to the Rattlers early game strategy of getting the ball out, but the team’s inability to make much happen in the second quarter without blitzing was noticeable. The unit will have to be able to be more dominant moving forward and take pressure off of this secondary.
Downs was so dominant a year ago that Saturday’s performance seemed like a quiet one most of the way. However, at the end of the night, he still caught nine of his twelve targets for 78 yards and two touchdowns, all team highs. It’s good to see that he and Maye already have a strong connection, even with the redshirt freshman looking to spread the ball around more.