Saturday night produced a big win for the Tar Heels, but plenty of injuries in the process. They lost starting running back Caleb Hood and key edge rusher Noah Taylor within minutes of each other in the first quarter, while Des Evans, Bryson Nesbit and Kaimon Rucker all picked up injuries of their own throughout the remainder of the game. On Monday, it was revealed that three of those players will be out for the season and two others will be monitored throughout this week.
Early in the morning, the team announced that Taylor would be out for the season with the lower-body injury that he suffered to his right leg. This is a big loss for a Tar Heel defense that hasn’t had much consistency throughout the unit, primarily up front. Taylor is the team’s leader in both tackles for loss (6.0) and sacks (3.5) so far this season and easily played the most snaps of anyone along that Tar Heel defensive line. With this being his sixth season at the college level and him having played in the first eight games of the season, this means that we have seen the last of Taylor in a Tar Heel uniform. He finishes his career with 28 total tackles and 21 quarterback pressures.
After Taylor initially was declared the only one out for the season, the school revealed later in the afternoon that Hood and Evans will be out for the season. Both guys were initially said to be out for this weekend’s game with Virginia due to upper-body injuries, but the team will now have to adjust without them.
Hood had taken control of the team’s No. 1 running back role over the past few weeks prior to the injury, giving the team a receiving threat out of the backfield that they had lacked before that. Hood finishes the season with 369 yards of total offense and a touchdown on 56 total touches, the majority of that production coming in the Miami and Duke games.
As for Evans, the team is losing another defensive lineman that has played over 250 snaps for them this season. He hasn’t been nearly as productive as many people thought he could be off the edge, but he had started to settle into that starting role a bit and had made some plays in the past few weeks. Evans will finish the season with 25 total tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss and nine quarterback pressures.
Replacing both Taylor and Evans will be difficult. Head coach Mack Brown told the media on Monday that Chris Collins, Kaimon Rucker and Malaki Hamrick will now have the chance to take over that starting role. Collins has played over 200 snaps already this season and would be the guy that seems the most likely starter at the spot moving forward. Rucker, though, has been far more productive in the snaps that he’s played, although he may be needed at the POWER end spot. Hamrick hasn’t seen nearly as many snaps as the other two, but has graded out well in his pass rushing reps. At the POWER end spot, Rucker will likely be the favorite to take over those starter reps with the production that he has had so far this season. Defensive coordinator Gene Chizik also pointed to Jahvaree Ritzie as a guy that could see more snaps at the POWER end spot, something that we heard he was doing back in preseason. Jacolbe Cowan will also be a guy that will be counted on to play more reps for the remainder of the season.
There is a bit of a wrinkle to these plans, though. Rucker is currently day-to-day and is being monitored for lower body injury and will be a gametime decision for this weekend’s game. If he can’t go, that would mean a heavy dose of Ritzie and Cowan rotating at that POWER end spot.
At running back, the majority of the reps will fall to Elijah Green and Omarion Hampton, who took the reps the rest of the way on Saturday night after Hood’s departure. Green has a chance to become what British Brooks was for the team late last season after his performance against Duke, while Hampton gets his chance to regain some reps that he lost after the strong start to the season. George Pettaway has also been pushing for a bigger role, as Brown said last week in his presser, so this could be his chance to do just that if he can catch the ball out of the backfield.
Rucker isn’t the only player who will be monitored throughout this week. Nesbit will also be a gametime decision after picking up his own lower-body injury on Saturday. This is probably the least concerning injury of the group because of the production that the team has gotten from Kamari Morales and John Copenhaver so far this season.