The Tar Heels survived on the road at a Sun Belt foe for the second straight week on Saturday with a 35-28 win over Georgia State. There are certainly a lot of things that need to be cleaned up during the ensuing bye week, but on a day where that conference pulled three major upsets, you can’t be too mad about walking away with a win. As the team heads into that important bye week before welcoming Notre Dame to Chapel Hill, here’s who is trending up and down.
Hampton was having another quiet day late into the third quarter until he made the play of the game, breaking off a 58-yard touchdown run as an immediate response to the drive that gave Georgia State the lead. That run jumpstarted a strong fourth quarter for him where he ran for 40 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown, as well. He finished the day with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 16 carries, giving him two 100-yard, two-touchdown games in the first three games of his freshman season.
Jones had the most complete game of anyone on the offensive side of the ball for the Tar Heels on Saturday, leading them in rushing for the majority of the day. He finished the day with ten carries for 61 yards and a touchdown, his best rushing day of the season, and also caught four passes for 23 yards on four targets. He did have the fumble that put a bit of a mark on what had been a flawless day to that point, but that allowed for Hampton to enter the game and make that massive play late in the third quarter. The Tar Heels are in need of a veteran that can help out these two young running backs when they have their struggles and Jones did a good job of filling that role on Saturday.
Copenhaver somehow wasn’t able to get involved in last weekend's offensive outburst in Boone, but he turned in a career performance in Atlanta on Saturday. He set the tone for the game-winning drive with a 47-yard reception and also had a key third-down reception on his other catch. As the team’s third tight end, he probably won’t see consistent production, but the good news is that when he has had his opportunities this season, he has capitalized on them.
Paysour stepped up once again with Josh Downs out of the lineup to lead the Tar Heels in receiving on Saturday. He caught five of his six targets for 61 yards and a ridiculous over-the-shoulder touchdown grab. His fumble soured his day a little, but it’s been a strong two weeks for the redshirt freshman. Even when Downs does return, there is no way this guy can’t be involved in some decent capacity.
Enough can not be said about the impact that Echols had on this Tar Heel defense on Saturday. After a quiet trip to Boone, he rebounded nicely in terms of production, tallying ten total tackles including seven solo tackles while displaying that tremendous sideline-to-sideline ability in the first week. The bigger impact, though, came with the speech that he gave the defense after they allowed 25 straight points. “We will STILL win this football game,” he told the unit according to Lee Pace, who was on the sideline for the Tar Heel Sports Network. Following that speech, the unit forced four straight punts including two three-and-outs to close the game.
For the second consecutive week, Gray led the Tar Heel defense in tackles, but did so in a much cleaner fashion than a week ago. He finished with 14 total tackles, including eleven solo tackles and a team high two tackles for loss. There are still some things that he has to work on when tackling in space, but he has certainly taken a step forward from last season so far this year.
The Tar Heels didn’t have much success against that Georgia State offensive line, but one of the guys that did make some nice plays up front on Saturday was Taylor. He finished with 1.5 sacks, the most on the team on Saturday, including the huge sack on 3rd and 7 that gave the Tar Heels back for what would end up being the game-winning drive. Taylor has had a solid start to the season, but he simply needs to get more help.
The Tar Heel secondary had yet another rough day on Saturday. The biggest issue for the unit continues to be the lack of communication in zone siutations that leaves so many receivers open. While that wasn’t nearly as present as it had been in the past two weeks, there were still way too many instances where it did pop up again on Saturday, leading to more big plays. Limiting the big plays has been a big issue overall for this unit out of the gate this season, as well, and it is something they must get figured out over this bye week if they want to be able to be trusted moving forward.
Duck’s early season struggles continued on Saturday against the Panthers. He was targeted six times, all of which were caught for 90 yards and a touchdown, the third straight game where he has allowed 70 or more receiving yards to start this year. Hopefully he can find a way to reset during the bye week because if this continues, the team will have to start looking at other options that can possibly show more resistance.
Outside of Taylor and Rucker, the Tar Heel defensive front pushed around all day once again. The Panthers offensive line bullied them for the majority of the day in the run game, as the Tar Heels allowed 235 yards rushing for an average of 4.4 yards per carry. Pressure on the quarterback was extremely inconsistent, as they had three more sacks, but registered just three quarterback hit and six pressure outside of that. In order for this defense to have any chance of improving, this unit must be able to start winning those battles up front and do so sooner rather than later.
The first two games of the season were pretty solid for this offensive line, but they had their issues on Saturday. Maye was under the most consistent pressure that he has been all season long, although a majority of that can be credited to the schemed blitzes that Georgia State sent at the team. The bigger issue was the inconsistency of the unit in the run game, as they were pushed around early by the Georgia State defensive line. While the Georgia State defensive line definitely has some talent, it is far from the best unit that they will face this season. Hopefully the week off and the expected return of Spencer Rolland from the lower body injury that kept him out of Saturday’s game will help boost the unit a bit for what will be one of their biggest tests this season against Notre Dame.
After a strong first two weeks of the season for Jones, he was extremely quiet Saturday. He saw just one target in his 61 snaps, one that he dropped meaning he finished the day without a catch. There is not any reason for major concern, but with Antoine Green set to return soon from his collarbone injury, this did not help his case to stay in the starting lineup when that happens.
Pettaway was another offensive weapon who had a nice two week start to the season that was very quiet on Saturday. He had just five carries for two yards in ten snaps, all of which came in the first half. This performance shouldn’t be seen as anything concerning, especially since the offensive line struggled to open running lanes in that first half.