The Tar Heels are back on track thanks to Mack Brown’s seven win over NC State on Saturday. The Tar Heels were dominant from the opening kickoff and really took over in the second half, pulling away to a 48-21 win to advance to 4-1 on the season. As the attention turns to Saturday’s 125th meeting of the South’s Oldest Rivalry, we take a look at who is trending up and who’s trending down around this Tar Heel football team.
The Tar Heels’ gunslinger continued his improved play on Saturday, getting in an early rhythm thanks to the short passing game that was utilized very well early on. Howell finished the game with 252 yards and a touchdown on 18 of 29 passing and also added 12 yards and a touchdown on eight carries. While it will be hard for him to get back into the Heisman Trophy race, Howell has definitely broken his mini sophomore slump that he was in to start the season.
Williams had another great performance on Saturday, continuing what has been simply a spectacular start to his season. For the first time all season, Williams did not have a catch out of the backfield, but he led the Tar Heels in rushing on Saturday, toting the ball 19 times for 160 yards and three touchdowns. One the way to those numbers, Williams broke 17 tackles, which led all of college football on Saturday. It is Williams’ second game this season with three rushing touchdowns on the ground and he now has at least two offensive touchdowns in all five games this season.
Simmons has battled through a deep depth chart and injuries early one in 2020, but he had a big game on Saturday. With Beau Corrales out of the lineup with an injury, Simmons got his first career start and immediately made a couple of early receptions to help get this passing offense going. He finished the game with five catches for 38 yards on eight targets and provides another viable option at wide receiver for the Tar Heels going forward this season.
The leader of the Tar Heel defense had really struggled in the last two games entering Saturday's game, but he returned to form against the Wolfpack. Surratt’s eight total tackles, which led the team on Saturday, were more than he had in the past two games combined and he didn’t miss a single tackle after struggling to tackle in open space recently. Surratt was also one of three Tar Heels to grab an interception on Saturday, his first interception since the game-winner against Duke last year. You knew it was only a matter of time before he got back on track, but it was good to see Surratt play this well again.
Brown has had a nice start to the season and that continued on Saturday afternoon with his first 100 yard receiving game of the season. Brown caught seven of his nine targets for 105 yards, leading the way for the Tar Heels in both categories. Brown has been the team’s most consistent receiver early in the season, leading the team in receiving in four of the first five games.
Fox was another defensive leader for this Tar Heel defense that played well on Saturday after struggling in the prior two games. Fox finished the game with four total tackles, two of which were for a loss and both of which were sacks. Fox also added a quarterback hurry, doing a good job of providing pressure in his 28 pass rushing reps.
Mack Brown pointed out how dominant his offensive line was on Saturday and it is hard not to agree with him on this one. After struggling to protect Sam Howell a week ago, the offensive line allowed just three sacks, one of which was on Howell for not getting rid of the football, and just two quarterback hurries in this one. The unit was fantastic once again in run blocking situations, paving the way for a running game that ran for 326 yards on 55 rush attempts which averages out to a very solid 5.9 yards per carry. The Wolfpack defensive line presented a tough test for this group, but they answered the call nicely on Saturday.
Conley saw his first action since suffering an injury against Boston College and made a sizable contribution in limited action. While he was on the field for just 13 snaps, he finished the game with five total tackles, a number that ranked second on the team. The Tar Heels would love to get Conley back in a larger capacity after he showed so much promise early in the season, but it was good to see him making plays in his limited role on Saturday.
⇧Dae Dae Hollins
Hollins, who was hampered by an early season injury himself, saw his most significant action of the season on Saturday, starting on the outside in place of the injured Patrice Rene. He played 46 snaps, including 34 coverage snaps, helping to hold the NC State receiving corps relatively in check for most of the day. Hollins finished the game with three total tackles and two pass deflections and continues to show that even with all that has been lost in the secondary, there is still talent that can at least hold their own.
Downs was one of the true freshmen that many thought could come and make a big impact early on when he signed with the Tar Heels last winter, but COVID-19 limited his opportunities to make an impression. Downs saw his most significant action of the season on Saturday and was able to haul in the first touchdown catch of his young career on a 17-yard pass from Sam Howell in the third quarter.
Roseman-Sinclair saw the first action of his career on Saturday late in the 4th quarter. In just six snaps, he was able to record his first career tackle and his first career interception.
Newsome’s early season struggles to get open continued on Saturday. The Tar Heels most targeted receiver a year ago was targeted just twice against the Wolfpack and finished the day with just one catch for 14 yards. After a 1,000 yard season a year ago, Newsome has just 151 yards receiving on 15 catches this season and sits fourth on the team in receiving through five games.