Following the loss to Virginia Tech to open the season, Tar Heel players and coaches were interested to see how the team would respond, following a disappointing start to the season. After a great week of practice and preparation, UNC took care of Georgia State 59-17, Saturday night in Kenan Stadium. Sam Howell returned to form, throwing for 352 yards, and three touchdowns. He added 104 yards on the ground, and two more scores, including a 62-yard scamper in the second half. Howell led the team in rushing, as UNC still struggled to open holes for the tailbacks. The defense had another good showing, holding the Panthers to under 300 yards of total offense, making it the second straight week UNC didn’t allow more than 300 yards of offense. Carolina only registered 1 sack, but they did have 7 tackles for loss which is something this team needs moving forward. UNC was able to clean some things up, but they still have some work to do before their ACC home opener this weekend.
UNC was without Joshua Ezeudu, so it’s hard to grade this offensive line without their best player of the position group. Nonetheless, this group is still struggling despite returning virtually everyone from last year’s Orange Bowl team. Brian Anderson did return after hardly playing at Virginia Tech last Friday, but the offensive line seemed to play better this game with Quiron Johnson at the center position. There weren’t a lot of running lanes opened up for Ty Chandler and company to attack, but the success of Sam Howell running the football may evolve the way Phil Longo wants to run the football. They did hold up in pass protection, allowing Sam to go through his progressions and get the football to his receivers. Mack Brown talked all during the summer that UNC is deeper up front than they’ve been since he returned to 2019 and that depth is paying off, with that in mind with Virginia coming to Chapel Hill this Saturday, UNC needs all 5 of their starters available, as the Cavaliers will be physical and emotional for 60 minutes.
As much talk as there was about the offensive line following the loss to the Hokies, UNC’s defensive started slowly before recovering in the second half of that game. Saturday night, against an unmatched Panthers unit, lived in the backfield with the aforementioned 1 sack and 7 tackles for loss. Myles Murphy registered the lone sack for Carolina, but it was a group effort in terms of tackles for loss as seven Tar Heels registered at least one. Carolina was rotating guys long before it was a blowout, and one common theme has come from that: Jahvaree Ritzie and Kaimon Rucker need more snaps. Murphy and Ray Vohasek were much better on Saturday night, but the talent of Ritzie and the energy from Rucker is too much to keep on the sidelines. You’d like to see more from both Tomon and Tomari Fox, but you feel with their experience the plays will come eventually. Des Evans looked like the way we thought he would after adding 30 pounds of muscle in the offseason. UNC still needs to work on creating constant pressure on the quarterback, because Braxton Burmeister and Cornelius Brown won’t be the best they’ll see this season, but the defense appears to be solid enough to keep UNC in games as the offense continues to work things out.