A new feature has been added to the Heel Tough blog this football season, as after every game I'm going to take a deep look at how the Tar Heels played in the trenches. This idea was inspired for my love of offensive and defensive line play. In an era of football where it's all about the skill position players, my eyes are still focused on the big uglies up front, getting the job done. Here's the trench report for the win against South Carolina:
There were a lot of questions entering the game against the Gamecocks, and the Tar Heels found a lot of answers. Nick Polino made his first start at center, and outside of a missed block here and there, was phenomenal calling the signals, and opening up running lanes for Tar Heels' trio of running backs. Jordan Tucker may have been flagged a couple of times, but the sophomore was exceptional in run block situations, Charlie Heck was usual self, at the left tackle position, helping keep a young Sam Howell upright for the majority of the contest. A big thing that happened in this game was that in the second half, Brian Anderson took snaps at center, and the play of the unit didn't suffer. Mack Brown said on Monday, that decision was about trying to build quality depth. Overall this offensive line played as good a game I've seen since that 2015 season. They helped Carolina rush for, 238 yards, and gave Howell time in the pocket. Next week's task will be a bit tougher as the Miami Hurricanes visit Chapel Hill, and they bring with them a uber talented front 7.
Like the offensive line, there were questions about this unit entering the season. How would they perform in new defensive coordinator Jay Bateman's scheme? Can Aaron Crawford stay healthy? For a school that ESPN listed as "DL U", Carolina has been anything but that in recent seasons. Saturday was a good first step to being good on that side of the ball. Aaron Crawford is healthy as was a force to be reckon with, recording 1 sack and 3 tackles for loss. I think the injuries he's suffered made us forget just how good he is, and will be moving forward. Tomon Fox and Jason Strowbridge both had moments on Saturday as well. My biggest takeaway from this game was that in the first half, Carolina couldn't get to Jake Bentley. That all changed in the second half, and many times Carolina didn't need to blitz to get to him. They were the fresher in the 4th quarter, and it showed as they were in Bentley's face, and slowed down the Gamecocks running game. This group has a great chance to build off this performance, as Saturday they welcome in Miami. In their opener 2 weeks ago, they allowed 10 sacks. Miami also has a young, unproven quarterback. It'll be interesting to see if they can make night long, in what figures to be a raucous Kenan Stadium.