There was a lot of excitement, and expectation in and around Chapel Hill entering the 2020 season, and rightfully so. Coming off a 7-6 season in Mack Brown’s first season returning to Chapel Hill, and returning a lot of production on both sides of the football, sped up the rebuilding process. But like every team that has expectations, they also have question marks about them. For Carolina, those questions lie in the trenches. Among the offensive line, Carolina lost Charlie Heck to the NFL, and veteran Nick Polino to graduation. On the defensive line, Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge both departed. The good news is that Carolina has talent on both sides of the football, to replace what was lost, but they need them to perform at a consistent level.
It was a slow start for Carolina, as they entered 22 point favorites over Syracuse, yet only led 7-6 at halftime. It was only a 10-6 contest entering the fourth quarter, when the offense finally came alive scoring three touchdowns on the ground, to ensure a 31-6 season opening victory. It wasn’t pretty at times on either side, but both groups took a step forward which is what you were looking for in this game. Here is how both units performed in week one:
The expectations for their performance was altered once it learned that Joshua Ezeudu wasn’t available to play, nonetheless they had their issues early on. Communication was a problem, as there were plenty of missed assignments that weren’t taken care of pre-snap. Brian Anderson got penalized for holding that neglected a big play in the run game, and kept the offense out of rhythm. It got to the point that Quiron Johnson, a former walk-on got inserted into the lineup, which actually jump started the group to some degree. Asim Richards really struggled taking over at left tackle for Charlie Heck. They allowed 2 sacks, and 3 hits on quarterback Sam Howell, but the pressure allowed was too much for the liking. The one encouragement though, was that the later the game got, the more fresh they appeared to be. In that fourth quarter, they opened the running lanes for Michael Carter and Javonte Williams. While they’ll need to be more consistent, and cut out the untimely penalties, they appeared to be heading in the right direction in the second half. They can take what they did in the final 15 minutes, and build on that.
Even though they lost Aaron Crawford and Jason Strowbridge, Mack Brown hasn’t been shy in saying that he thinks this group will be better at rushing the quarterback. That’s not a slight at those two players, but stating that they are more comfortable in what Jay Bateman wants them to do up front. Today they had a formidable matchup to make plays, and be a force up front. Carolina allowed just 68 rushing yards, on 35 attempts. They closed the gaps, got off blocks, and more importantly finished plays. The defense also recorded 7 sacks, headlined by Chazz Surratt and Tomari Fox. Tomon Fox also had a nice day, recording 3 tackles including one sack. Raymond Vohasek was also a problem up front for the Orange, as he appears more than ready to take over for Aaron Crawford. This was a great start for the defensive line group, and they’ll look to carry this over to Charlotte.