Two games. Two comebacks. After a quick start, the Tar Heels watched the Miami Hurricanes muscle back to a fourth quarter lead before responding with a nine play, 75 yard drive and a two-point conversion to retake the lead with 1:01 to go on Saturday night. Miami would have one last chance, but pushed a field goal wide right. The 28-25 win put the Tar Heels at 2-0 on the young season and 1-0 in the ACC. Let’s take a look at this week’s Heel Tough Blog stock report after another thrilling victory.
⇧ Sam Howell
Two games into his young career, Slingin’ Sammy Howell has already added two new chapters to Lee Pace’s second Football in a Forest book that will come out somewhere in the future now, right? Through the first two games of the season, Howell’s 519 passing yards rank second in school history for a quarterback in the first two games of the season, trailing only Bryn Renner’s 533 to begin the 2013 season. Howell’s four touchdown passes aren’t a mind-blowing number, but the fact that he has yet to throw an interception in his 49 pass attempts still has people feeling comfortable about his playmaking ability throwing the football whenever it is needed. Where Howell has thrived the most, though, has been in clutch situations. While trailing in the fourth quarter this season, Howell is 8-8 for 139 yards and three touchdowns with a 99.1 QBR. That is pretty damn good to say the least.
⇧ Javonte Williams
On a night where Miami’s front seven made it difficult to run the ball, Williams pieced together a solid performance. Williams carried the ball just ten times on Saturday night, but turned those limited carries into 76 yards and a touchdown. After averaging 4.39 yards after contact per attempt and forcing seven missed tackles against South Carolina, Williams continued to cause problems to defenders on Saturday.
⇧ Tomon Fox
Fox was, without a doubt, the best defensive player on the field for the Tar Heels on Saturday. Fox finished with 3.0 of the Tar Heels four sacks of Jarren Williams, thriving out of his new standup defensive end spot. In the first two games of his senior season, Fox has racked up 3.5 sacks after totaling just 7.5 combined in his first three seasons on campus.
⇧ Jeremiah Gemmel
Outside of Fox, there we not many bright spots on the defensive side of the football for the Tar Heels on Saturday night, but Gemmel was one of them. Gemmel was the definition of a sideline-to-sideline linebacker, finishing with 14 total tackles, eight of which were solos and both of which led the team. His 19 total tackles in the first two games leads the team, as well.
⇧ Dyami Brown
For the second straight week, Brown was the Tar Heels most targeted receiver and turned in another strong performance. Brown hauled in four receptions for 80 yards and a touchdown, leading the Tar Heels in both receptions and receiving yards on Saturday night. His two receiving touchdowns already top his one from last year and his 149 receiving yards in the first two games of 2019 are just 24 yards short of his total for 2018.
⇧ Rontavius Groves
After injuries derailed the beginning of his career, Groves has responded with a strong start to his junior season. For the second straight game, Groves recorded three catches as a rotational receiver, including the key 4th & 17 throw to keep the Tar Heels alive. With Antoine Green going down on Saturday night with an injury, Groves’ role could expand even more going forward, which as we’ve seen early this season, wouldn’t be a bad thing.
⇩ Ben Kiernan
After a great start to his career in Charlotte, Kiernan had a rough night on Saturday against the Hurricanes. Kiernan averaged just 27.5 yards per punt on his four punt attempts, with his longest punt going just 35 yards. He will have to be more consistent going forward to help a Tar Heel defense that struggled on Saturday.
⇩ Pass Defense
After a fantastic start to the season against Jake Bentley and the South Carolina, the Tar Heels pass defense was torn up by Jarren Williams and the Miami passing game. Most of the damage was done in the middle of the field and in the flats, which is not the worst places to get beaten, but as the game progress, Miami was able to pick up 12-15 yards easily with both of these types of pass plays. Taking away the middle of the field would help to make this pass defense, that it already difficult to throw against on the outside, one of the toughest to pass the football on in the ACC.
After one of the healthiest starts to a season that the program has seen in a while, the injury bug bit the Tar Heels for the first time in 2019 on Saturday. Three starters left the game with injuries, including two seniors in center Nick Polino and cornerback Patrice Rene. The Tar Heels announced Monday that Rene will miss the rest of the season with a torn ACL in his right knee and Polino will miss indefinite time with an unspecified lower body injury. Meanwhile, Antoine Green’s injury is still a mystery and no timetable has been set for his return.
⇧ Direction of the Program
Many people expected to see Mack Brown turn the program around from the state where Larry Fedora left the program last fall, but no one expected it to be this quick. The Tar Heels are one of just three teams in the country to begin this season 2-0 with both wins coming over Power 5 opponents and, for the first time in a couple of decades, look to have a home environment that could cause trouble for opposing teams. It’s still too early to determine just how good this 2019 team is when it comes to competing for a division and conference title, but Mack Brown is wasting no time getting the Tar Heels on the right track towards those accomplishments.