The Tar Heels began their 2020 season in style on Saturday in Kenan Stadium, defeating the Syracuse Orange 31-6. While it was far from the best game the team could have played, the team still won comfortably and is off and running in a season where expectations are as high as they’ve been in recent memory. Following Saturday’s win, we give you a look at this week’s stock report to tell you who and what is trending up and down.
Howell began his Heisman campaign on Saturday afternoon and while it may not have been his best game, he still had a solid performance. He was under plenty of pressure all day and that definitely seemed to affect him early one, but once he settled in, he looked like the Howell from late last year. He finished the game 25 of 34 for 295 yards, touchdown and two interceptions, making some important throws in the fourth quarter as the Tar Heels pulled away.
It was a rough day for the sophomore left guard, who got the start on Saturday in place of the injured Joshua Ezeudu. Montilus was beat inside way too often early on, making it nearly impossible to get the running game going and forcing Howell off of his game. In the second quarter, the Tar Heels actually started rotating in a junior walk-on in his place in an attempt to get some sort of push up front. With uncertainty about exactly when Ezeudu will return, Montilus must be able to bounce back quickly and step his game up in the process.
The man that came in for Montilus yesterday was Johnson and, despite being a walk-on who entered the season third on the depth chart, and he was able to energize the unit that was struggling mightily in the first half. Johnson may not have been perfect, but he handled himself well in run blocking situations.
Montilus wasn’t the only offensive lineman that had his struggles on Saturday. Left tackle Asim Richards showed that replacing Charlie Heck was much easier said than done. It was noticeable that there was plenty of miscommunication on the left side of the line and he struggled to keep Howell’s blindside protected throughout most of the day. With a better pass rushing team on the horizon later in the season, the Tar Heels need Richards to show improvement from what he showed on Saturday.
While it was a slow start for the offensive line, when the group settled in, Carter was able to get going. He carried the ball just seven times, but averaged 11.1 yards per carry, finishing the day with 78 yards on the ground. Carter was also a productive weapon out of the backfield, catching six passes for 60 yards.
The Tar Heels struggled in the red zone a year ago, but Williams almost single-handley took care of that on Saturday. Williams rushed for 57 yards on 14 rush attempts, but found the endzone on all three of his fourth quarter rushing attempts. Although the yards weren’t there, Williams was able to take care of the most important aspect of the game: putting points on the board.
⇩Punt Coverage Unit
One of the other notable struggles outside of the offensive line was the special teams unit. The punt coverage unit in particular struggled, allowing two long returns, lucky that one was called back. Although this defense had a fantastic game on Saturday, that performance will be tough duplicate week in and week out, so this unit has to be better and not put this defense in short field situations.
Duck was arguably the Tar Heels best player on Saturday, as he was simply dominant defensively. Not only did he finish with four total tackles, all solo, he also didn’t allow a catch when targeted and added two pass deflections.
There was a lot of concern earlier this offseason about the defensive line with the loss of Jason Strowbridge and Aaron Crawford, but they were quieted rather quickly. Tomari had a big day, finishing with 3 total tackles, including 2.0 tackles for a loss and 2.0 sacks, both sacks coming in the first half.
Saturday was just another day in the life of Chazz Surratt. The senior linebacker made good on his preseason second team All-American honors, leading the Tar Heels in tackles once again, finishing with 9 total tackles on the day. Surratt was also all over the Syracuse backfield, finishing with a team-high 2.5 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks and two quarterback hits on the day.
Surratt wasn’t the only Tar Heel linebacker flying around on Saturday. Gemmel had a strong day, as well, racking up 5 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. Gemmel had a big season a year ago, but with a healthy secondary behind him, he was able to go to work on Saturday.
Fox matched his brother’s productive day with one of his own. Fox finished the day with three total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss and 1.0 sack. It was a good start, now he needs to follow that up with another good performance against Charlotte.
The redshirt freshman, who was used sparingly last season, jumped on to the scene on Saturday with a nice performance. In just 29 snaps, Brown hauled in all three of his targets for 35 yards. While he is likely still battling Corrales for reps, he’s showing he will be impactful when he is on the field.
In his first collegiate game, the former 3✮ outside linebacker shined. In just 22 snaps, Rucker racked up 5 total tackles, which finished tied for second on the team. He seems to be developing into a nice role player for this Tar Heel team already, a welcome surprise.
Biggers only played ten snaps on Saturday, mostly in garbage time, but he was able to pull down his first career interception.