The Tar Heels picked up a huge win over the Virginia Tech Hokies on Saturday in Kenan Stadium with a 56-45 victory in a game that turned into a track meet despite the Tar Heels holding multiple three possession leads throughout the game. The win gave the Tar Heels their first win over a ranked opponent since 2016, their first win in a ranked-vs.-ranked matchup since 2008 and their first win over the Hokies since 2015. The win also jumped the Tar Heels up to No. 5 in the latest AP poll, the highest ranking for the team in the poll since 1997. Ahead of this weekend’s trip back on the road to Tallahassee, we look at the stock report to see who is trending up and who's trending down.
After a slow start to the season, Howell stepped up on Saturday against the Tar Heels toughest opponent thus far. Howell was 18 of 23 for 257 yards and three touchdowns, finishing with a career high 152.8 passer rating. Entering the game, he was really struggling on deep passes so far this season, but responded going 2 for 2 on passes of 20 or more yards through the air with both passes going for touchdowns to Dyami Brown. While it will be hard for Howell to get his name solidly in the Heisman race after some of the starts that others have had around the country have had, he has a chance to get in a rhythm and pick up where he left off last week.
Carter has gotten off to a torrid start to the season, but he took it to the next level on Saturday against the Hokies. Carter led the Tar Heels in rushing for the third straight game and put together a career day, rushing for 214 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Carter ripped off six carries of 15 yards or more, capped off by his 62-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter. His big performance also moved him into tenth in program history for rushing yards in a career, as he now has 2,572 yards in his career. Carter looks well on his way to another 1,000 yard rushing season and possibly one of the best rushing seasons since the turn of the century.
With all of the success that Carter has had, it would be easy for Williams to struggle to find yards, but for the third consecutive stock report, he is on the rise after a fantastic performance. Williams ran for 169 yards and two touchdowns on 20 rush attempts and added three catches out of the backfield for 55 yards. Williams continues to thrive and has had multiple touchdowns in each of the first three games, as he is already up to six touchdowns on the ground. Williams combines with Carter to form one of the best backfield duos in the country.
With Storm Duck and Ja’Qurious Conley both out of the lineup on Saturday, the Tar Heels were forced to make some adjustments in the secondary. Kelly played most of the snaps at safety opposite of Don Chapman and wasn’t bad, but had some key missed tackles in the open field, two of which resulted in touchdowns. If Kelly continues to play a significant role going forward, which we do expect as of right now with the statuses of Duck and Conley uncertain, he will have to be a more sure-handed tackler in the run game.
With Storm Duck out of the lineup, there were some questions as to how the Tar Heels secondary would respond, but they had a solid day in coverage against the Hokies. Rene was the standout of the group, doing a good job neutralizing Tayvion Robinson, the Hokies top pass catcher coming in, allowing him just two catches for three yards when he was matched up in coverage with him. Adding to this performance is the fact that this was Rene’s first significant game action since suffering a torn ACL against Miami last season. There are rumors circulating that Duck may be out for a substantial period of time due an undisclosed injury and if there is any truth to them, the Tar Heels need Rene to continue to play at this level now if he can.
Newsome was targeted just five times in the first two games of the season, but as we expected, he got himself going against the Hokies on Saturday. Newsome caught all seven of his targets for 69 yards and a touchdown, matching his season production entering the game by the second drive. Last year, the Virginia Tech game was the one where Newsome’s season really took off. We’ll see if this year’s game will have a similar effect.
This is the first time in a while that Surratt is in the trending down category on this list, but he had a quiet game against the Hokies on Saturday. After leading the team in tackles in each of the first two games, the Tar Heels’ start linebacker finished with just four total tackles, including zero solo tackles, on Saturday and registered just one quarterback hurry. This is not something to worry about, however. He should have no problem bouncing back in Tallahassee.
After an explosive start to his season, Fox was a bit quiet himself on Saturday. He did register four total tackles in the game, but did not register a tackle for loss and in his 23 pass rushing snaps, failed to register even a single quarterback hit. This was in large part due to the offensive scheme of Virginia Tech, though, and the expectation is that he should have no problem bouncing back against a Florida State team that is still one of the worst pass protecting teams in the country.
This entire unit took a major step forward on Saturday against a defensive line that came into the game as one of the top producing defensive lines in the country. Joshua Ezeudu was fantastic in his return to play after injury cost him the first two games of the season and the unit overall just looked more confident. Marcus McKethan and Jordan Tucker had their best games of the season, especially in run blocking scenarios and Brian Anderson did the same on the way to earning ACC Lineman of the Week honors. Asim RIchards had some struggles early on forcing Ezeudu out to left tackle and Ed Montilus back in at left guard, but the benching seemed to motivate Richards, who re-entered the game after a couple of drives on the bench to put together his best game of the season. If the schedule will allow them to establish a rhythm, this group might be able to continue their progression.
Following one of the best performances of the season at safety, the Tar Heels moved Morrison back into the nickel on Saturday and he had some struggles. Morrison was almost non-existent in run defense, failing to register even an assisted tackle, despite playing nearly every snap on Saturday. He had a solid day coverage wise in this one, but the Tar Heels will need to be much more productive in run defense over the next couple of weeks.
Brown was off to a solid start to his season entering Saturday’s contest, but he looked more like the Dyami Brown we're used to in this one. Brown caught just three of his six targets, but those three receptions went for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Brown was able to take the top off of the Hokie defense twice in the first half, catching passes of 37 and 43 yards for his two touchdowns. Brown had two drops in the game that could have made his day even better, but he is still trending in the right direction.
The offensive line wasn’t the only group that had some nice success in run blocking on Saturday. Tight end Garrett Walston hasn’t been talked about a lot this season, as he has just three catches for 32 yards so far, but he has developed into a fantastic run blocker and that was definitely on display against the Hokies.Walston did a great job of sealing the edge on a couple of long runs, including Michael Carter 16-yard cutback run in the first quarter that gave the Tar Heels the 21-0 lead.