The Tar Heels first game as a top five team since 1997 did not go as planned on Saturday in a hostile environment at Florida State. The Tar Heels trailed by as many as 24 in a first half where they looked shell-shocked from the word go, but roared back with a big second half to give themselves an opportunity at a game-winning drive, before falling just short with three consecutive dropped passes to finish the game. The Tar Heels, who dropped to 14th in the latest AP poll, will now have to pick themselves up and dust themselves off, as they prepare for a ranked-vs-ranked rivalry matchup with the hated NC State Wolfpack. Let’s take a look at who’s trending up and who’s trending down as we head towards this weekend’s important matchup.
Howell had a nice night despite being under some major pressure all evening and a tough first half. The pick six that he threw just prior halftime seemed to be what woke him up, as he came back to finish the night with 374 passing yards and three touchdowns on 20 of 36 passing. If the Tar Heels had been able to complete the comeback, it would have been the type of game that could have put him right back in the Heisman race. At the least, the Tar Heel quarterback has clearly put those early season struggles that he had behind him.
Corrales had a career night on Saturday night in Tallahassee while leading the way for the Tar Heel wide receivers. He finished the game with 141 yards and a touchdown on just four receptions and made a couple of nice catches over defenders in those jump ball situations that he thrived so well in a year ago. If not for a holding on the final drive that went uncalled, Corrales likely would have had a game-winning touchdown, as well, but alas the ACC refs would not let that be the case.
Walston had a career day in Tallahassee on Saturday. His 54 receiving yards were the most in his career, and the two receptions were just the third time in his career that he has had multiple receptions in a game. He also had another nice night helping in run blocking situations on the outside and did provide some help in pass protection at times, as well. Walston is slowly developing into a nice weapon for this Tar Heel offense in 2020.
All that people will remember from this game for Williams is his dropped pass one the final offensive play of the game for the Tar Heels, but without him, the Tar Heels never would have gotten themselves back into the game in the first place. Williams led the Tar Heels in rushing on Saturday night, carrying the ball 18 times for 119 yards and a touchdown and also hauled in three catches for 67 yards and a 38-yard touchdown that cut the lead to two possession, putting the Tar Heels back in the game. The drop at the end was a tough one to swallow, but it’s his first drop in his career at Carolina.
As Todd McShay said on Saturday night, Chapman has been all over the field in the first three games of the season, but on Saturday night he had a rough go of it. He finished the game with six total tackles, but took some very poor tackle angles throughout the night, especially in the first half, leading to some missed tackles and some big plays for the Seminoles offense. He was also caught with his eyes in the backfield a couple of times, leaving receivers open in the middle of the field, something that was a big problem for the Tar Heels early in the game. Chapman had arguably the worst game of his career on Saturday night, but he has to bounce back and be a little smarter in space as the season progresses.
After a huge step forward against one of the nation’s top defensive lines a week ago, the unit had trouble keeping one of the nation’s worst off of quarterback Sam Howell on Saturday night. The group had a solid night running blocking for a Tar Heel run game that ran for 184 yards on 45 carries, a number that was skewed by the sacks allowed. The pass protection was the big problem for the Tar Heels in this one, though, as a Seminoles defense that was off to an abysmal start to the season finished the game with four sacks and four quarterback hurries, the latter number of which seemed generous to say the least. For this Tar Heel passing to work the way they want it to, the offensive line has to give him time to throw and they will need to recover quickly with the NC State defensive line lurking this weekend.
For the second straight week, Surratt struggled to tackle in open space, missing some important tackles on quarterback Jordan Travis. For the second straight week, Surratt finished the game with four or fewer total tackles and he has just one solo tackle in the last two weeks. It’s hard to be overly critical of Surratt because of just how amazing his transition to linebacker has been in the last year and a half, but as we’ve seen, when he struggles, so does this defense. Hopefully the rivalry meeting with the Wolfpack will give him a chance to jumpstart his season again.
Surratt wasn’t the only Tar Heel defensive leader that struggled on Saturday. For the second straight game, Fox was rather quiet, recording just two total tackles and 0.5 a tackle for loss. It was a strong start to the season for Fox, but like Surratt, he’s had a tough go of it the past two weeks.
Atkins was supposed to settle things down with the kicking game this season after an FCS All-American career at Furman. That has been far from the case so far in the first four games of the season. Atkins missed his only field goal attempt of the night, a 44-yarder in the 4th quarter that could have cut the Florida State lead to seven at the time and would have allowed the Tar Heels to tie the game on the ensuing scoring drive. Atkins is 0-3 on field goals of longer than 40 yards this season and just 2-5 overall this season. One has to wonder if Noah Ruggles will get a look at some point in the near future.
The special teams unit as a whole was simply atrocious in this game from the word go. The Tar Heels’ first punt of the game was blocked and they had another one tipped due to porous protection and the return games were non-existent once again. This is an area that the Tar Heels must improve in going forward if they want to get themselves back on track.
Kelly continued his struggles tackling in the open field on Saturday after a rough go of it against Virginia Tech. While he didn’t take some of the bad angles that we saw Chapman take, Kelly still struggled to get the ball carrier to the ground in the open field. The Tar Heels need their safeties to be more reliable when tackling in the open field, including Kelly.