Yesterday produced one of the most insane Tar Heel football games that you will ever see and may have taken a few years off your life in the process. Let’s take a look at who is trending up and trending down after the 63-61 win over Appalachian State as the team prepares for another trip to one of the Sun Belt’s best.
To say that Maye has gotten off to a strong start to his career as a starter would be an understatement. Outside of his fumble early in the 4th quarter, he was flawless once again, completing 24 of 36 passes for 352 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers. He had another nice day on the ground, as well, running for 76 yards and a touchdown on twelve carries. He did all of this one Saturday without his top offensive weapon in the lineup with Josh Downs unable to go due to a knee sprain. He currently leads the country in passing yards and passing touchdowns and is off to arguably the best start to a career of any quarterback in program history.
This unit was simply shredded for the second consecutive weekend. Communication issues were a big part of the struggles on Saturday, with way too many receivers being passed off to no one in the zone-heavy scheme. The middle of the field was exposed constantly, especially down the stretch, and the corners continued to have their own issues on the outside. Mountaineers quarterback Chase Brice easily had the best performance of his career, throwing for 364 yards and six touchdowns and this group provided very little help in the run game either. This whole defense is a frustrating one to watch, but no single unit provides more head-scratching than this unit.
When Josh Downs was announced as being out of the lineup during warmups, many were wondering how the team would be able to make up the production. Paysour led the team in receiving on Saturday, catching all eight of his targets for 92 yards and a touchdown. He showed that even when Downs returns, this staff needs to find a way to still get him on the field.
Duck had a second straight rough game in coverage on Saturday. He was targeted eight times and only four of them were caught, but three of those were for touchdowns. This has been a brutal start to the season for the junior who was hoping that finally being healthy would allow him to build off of what he did in his true freshman season. The Tar Heels desperately need him tgo get things back on track and do so as soon as possible.
Jones had a solid first week performance but took things to another level yesterday with Downs out of the lineup. He was targeted seven times and caught four of those for 69 yards and a touchdown. This game proved why his starting for the team on the outside and much like Antoine Green a year ago, it’s now about becoming more consistent with that level of production.
Kelly was a big part of the team’s issues both in coverage and in stopping the run. He was officially targeted three times, two of which were caught, but there were plenty of other plays that guys could have used safety help of the top and simply never got it. He also was credited with three missed tackles, which tied for the most on the team with Cedric Gray. As the last line of defense for this team he simply has to be better moving forward.
The tight ends had another good day for the team on Saturday and Nesbit once again led the way. He caught three of his four targets for 47 yards and a touchdown. He also came up big for the Tar Heels on special teams, coming away with both onside kick recoveries, including the first one, which he returned for a touchdown. The only criticism of his day it that he did return that first recovery when he could have hit the ground and caused just a little less anxiety for Tar Heel fans.
The defensive line, which was so highly regarded this offseason, really had their struggles on Saturday. The Tar Heels had just two tackles for loss, one sack and eight quarterback pressures, failing to make life difficult for the opposing quarterback once again. The group was pushed around all day, as well, on running downs, as the Mountaineers ran for 288 yards and three touchdowns. The success of this unit is absolutely crucial for this defense to have an chance of improving.
Hood had a career performance for the Tar Heels on Saturday. He led the team in rushing with 87 yards on just six carries, including the 71-yard scamper that slowed the momentum at least momentarily after the Mountaineers scored 14 points in 1:32 right before that. The staff is still trying to work out the rotation of carries for these running backs and right now, Hood has to be a part of that plan moving forward until proven otherwise.
This was a strength of the team a week ago in Chapel Hill, but it was far from one on Saturday. Cedric Gray had some nice moments that kept it from being a complete disaster for this unit, but he still missed three tackles and allowed five receptions, including a touchdown, in coverage. Power Echols wasn’t nearly as impactful as he was in the opener, which hurt this unit that was a big part of why the team gave up 288 yards on the ground. RaRa Dillworth also had his struggles, missing the tackle on the 52-yard touchdown run by Nate Noel on the opening drive that really set the tone for the entire day. This is the one unit that has proved they are better than what they showed on Saturday and they need to get back to the success they’ve had on Saturday in Atlanta.
Burnette didn’t have to kick a field goal last week, but he hit two on Saturday that ended up being pretty crucial at the end of the day. He knocked through both a 44 and 47-yarder, making both of them look relatively easy. The hope is that he can carry this success throughout the season and finally help the Tar Heels have some confidence in their kicking game again.