For the first time since Mack Brown‘s departure from his first tenure in Chapel Hill, Tar Heel fans woke up the day after a season opener celebrating a win over a Power 5 opponent to begin a college football season. Mack is back and so is the fun of Tar Heel football, something that hasn’t been there in each of the past two seasons. The Tar Heels 24-20 victory in Charlotte wasn’t an easy one by any means, but the team's experience in close games finally paid off with a win. Let’s take a look at Week 1’s Tar Heel football stock report.
⇧ Myles Wolfolk
The hero of Saturday’s game, Wolfolk intercepted two Jake Bentley fourth quarter passes in the final three minutes of the game, including one on the final substantial South Carolina drive with the Gamecocks at the Tar Heels 26-yard line. The focus all offseason was heavily on the other three starters in this secondary, but Wolfolk made a huge impression on Saturday. The Tar Heels defense has been looking for a playmaker in the secondary for each of the last three seasons. Could Wolfolk be the answer?
⇧ Sam Howell
It was a big ask for the first true freshman to start a season opener in Tar Heel football history to come into a neutral site game against an SEC opponent and complete an 11-point fourth quarter comeback. Howell, however, did just that. Howell was 4-4 for 93 yards and two touchdowns on the two fourth quarter scoring drives, including a mind-boggling 31 yard completion to wide receiver Dazz Newsome that was the definition of threading the needle. In his first career start, Howell looked comfortable with the stage and showed some special things that have to give Tar Heels fans a lot of confidence about the direction of this passing game going forward.
⇧ Chazz Surratt
If you would have told fans back in April that Surratt would be starting the first game of the season for the Tar Heels at inside linebacker, many would likely have told you were either a bit crazy or that the Tar Heels‘ injury issues were back. The converted quarterback did get the start on Saturday, in part due to the fact that projected starter Dominique Ross was suspended due to a violation of team, but mostly due to the rapid improvement the staff has seen from him this offseason. He did have some early tackling troubles, but settled in nicely after the first couple of drives on the way to leading the Tar Heels in tackles with 12. Surratt was all over the field Saturday for the Tar Heel defense and will make it hard to keep him off the field going forward.
⇧ Offensive Line
With so much shifting during training camp on the offensive line, this was one of the biggest areas of concern for the Tar Heels heading into Saturday’s game. Against one of the better defensive lines in the country, the unit would dominate in the trenches, paving the way for 238 yards on the ground and, despite allowing three sacks, protecting Howell in crucial moments. Both tackles had a fantastic game and the interior offensive line look as good as anyone could have hoped for. It took until the final week of fall camp, but it appears the staff has finally been able to piece together that correct combination on the offensive line.
⇧ Greg Ross Jr.
Ross Jr. was one of the members of the Tar Heels 2018 team that received the most criticism last year. Well, yesterday was the start of a new season and also the start of a new Greg Ross Jr.. With Patrice Rene out for the first half due to a suspension stemming from last year's brawl at the end of the NC State game, Ross Jr. was scheduled to start. After an injury to Trey Morrison early in the game, Ross Jr. was tasked with slowing down South Carolina’s leading returning receiver from a year ago and helped to hold him to just one reception for seven yards on the day. After last year’s struggles, Ross Jr. looked confident and that paid off with a great performance on Saturday.
⇧ Javonte Williams
Does anybody else remember that Williams was rated as the No. 1476 overall player in the 2018 class? The reason to bring this up is that Williams hasn’t looked anywhere close to that ranking since the minute he stepped on campus. After a fantastic finish to the 2018 season, Williams had a strong outing to begin his 2019 season, running for 102 yards on 18 carries, leading the way in the Tar Heel backfield in what was a strong day for all three of the Tar Heels big three at running back.
⇧ Dyami Brown
The man that we at the Heel Tough Blog predicted to have a breakout season had the best game of his young career on Saturday. Brown tied for the team lead with four catches which resulted in 69 yards and an amazing one-handed touchdown grab. Brown fits this system so much better than his fit last year in Larry Fedora offense and Saturday might be the first signs of a big season.
⇧ Aaron Crawford
The expectations for Crawford’s 2019 season were high, but he may have exceeded those expectations on Saturday afternoon. Crawford was a force in the middle of the Tar Heel defense on Saturday, racking up six tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. The leader of the defensive line is healthy and Tar Heel fans should be extremely happy about it.
⇧ Overall State of the Program
In what was one of the quieter first full weekends of college football in recent memory, the Tar Heels were the talk of the college football nation on Saturday night. Even during the 2015 season, the Heels were not nearly this talked about on the national stage. After two dismal years to close the Larry Fedora era, this program is headed back in the right direction on and off the field.