The Tar Heels regular season home finale went exactly the way they hoped, as they ran away from the Western Carolina Catamounts on the way to a 49-9 victory that also allowed them to rotate in some of their young depth. The team will now prepare for one of the biggest games in program history, as the season finale with Miami has the chance to be a virtual Orange Bowl play in game. As they prepare for that enormous matchup, we look at who’s trending up and who’s trending down.
Carter was playing the final home game of his career on Saturday and simply dominated. Carter carried the ball just eight times on Saturday, but turned three of those carries into touchdowns and rushed for 73 yards. This is the second straight season that he has found the endzone three times on the ground in the home finale, as he was able to accomplish the same feat against Mercer a year ago. The Tar Heels are hoping both him and Javonte Williams can finish up strong in the regular season finale against Miami where they will need some stars to shine.
The expectation was that Howell and this passing game would have no problem picking apart this Western Carolina defense and he did that with plenty of precision. He completed 20 of his 23 pass attempts for 287 yards and two touchdowns and also added two rush attempts that went for 41 yards on Saturday. Howell will enter Saturday’s game with 64 career touchdowns passes, two short of tying Trevor Lawrence for the most by a player through their sophomore season and four shy of tying Darian Durant’s program record for passing touchdowns in a career. The game against Miami are the types of game that Howell usually steps up in if his offensive line can hold their own, so it’s not out of the question that he could reach both of these marks in this game.
Rucker has been one of the pleasant surprises for the Tar Heel defense this season and he may have had his best game of the season on Saturday. His seven tackles were a team high on the day and he racked those up while playing just 23 snaps. He made a couple of nice plays in the backfield, as well, finishing with 2.0 tackles for a loss, another team leader on Saturday. This young man has continued to succeed every time he is put on the field and he has to be getting close to a point where it is impossible to keep him off the field.
Newsome has really settled himself into a groove here late in the season and he had another nice game on Saturday. He caught all six of his targets for 82 yards and a touchdown, doing a lot of the work after the play in open space. There is a reason why Newsome is one of the best statistical receivers in program history and he has shaken off those struggles earlier this season to become a big help to this Tar Heel down the stretch.
Green was one of two true freshman running backs that saw their first carries of the year on Saturday and showed some promise. In his nine offensive snaps, he carried the ball six times for 43 yards and showcased some great acceleration and straight-line speed that could make him an interesting weapon in the backfield in the next couple of years.
Jones was the other true freshman running back who looked good in the limited reps that he saw on Saturday. Jones took five carries of his own in his thirteen snaps and he turned that into 31 yards and also found the endzone for his first career touchdown. Jones was the first of the two freshmen to receive snaps, but both guys set themselves up nicely to compete for available reps this offseason.
In one of his most extensive outings of the season, Asante showed why he will be the favorite to replace Chazz Surratt at season’s end. In his 20 snaps played on Saturday, he racked up four total tackles and did a good job of filling gaps in the run game. Asante hasn’t gotten many opportunities in the past two seasons, but every time he has seen reps, he has thrived. That was the case once again on Saturday.
Believe it or not, Green entered Saturday’s game with no catches on the season, but he was able to change that against the Catamounts. He caught his only target of the day for a 22-yard touchdown in the first quarter that extended the Tar Heels lead to 14-3. Green hasn’t seen the field that often this season and has been passed over by Emery Simmons and Khafre Brown on the depth chart, but as he enters his final season with the Tar Heels, there is a chance he could once again see a sizable role in the receiving corps.
The redshirt freshman saw the first action of his career and had some nice success in his limited time on the field. Although he only played five snaps, he finished with the first two tackles of his career.
Chestnut was playing in his final home game of his career in this one and he was able to play some snaps at both wide receiver and punt returner. Although he didn’t get a shot to return the only punt that came his way, he was able to cap his senior day performance with the first catch of his career on a 3-yard pass from Jace Ruder.