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Heel Tough Blog: Week 1 Stock Report - South Carolina

BVM Sports

It has been over 48 hours since the Tar Heels took down South Carolina, 31-17 to open the 2023 season. Entering the season opener, there was a lot of unknown about Carolina after a new offensive coordinator was hired, and it was still unknown if they had improved defensively. From the middle of the second quarter on, it was obvious that the Tar Heels were the better team, and they had a feel of a team poised to take that next step, which has been the driving force all off-season long. During the process, there were some guys who really impressed and guys who needed to bounce back next week against App State. Let’s take a look at who is trending up, and who is trending down, after the first Saturday of the year.

Trending Up:

  • Chip Lindsey: When Phil Longo opted to leave Carolina for Wisconsin, Mack Brown was tasked with hiring the right guy, to not waste the last year of Drake Maye. When Chip Lindsey emerged as the guy, there were concerns that maybe Brown hired the wrong guy, as he was stripped of his play-calling duties at his last two stops. If Saturday was any indication, Brown may have hired the guy he wanted all along. The Tar Heels amassed 437 yards of total offense and ran the ball 39 times. In years past, Phil Longo would’ve abandoned the run game, but Lindsey stuck with it, as it took some time for UNC to start winning at the line of scrimmage. Another impressive thing about Lindsey’s debut was his desire to call a quick passing game, keeping Maye clean, and getting the ball into his playmakers in open space. If Week 1 is any indication, the Tar Heels offense is going to be just fine.

  • Kaimon Rucker: Who would’ve thought a defensive player would garner such attention after the first game of the year, but that is exactly what Rucker did, earning National Defensive Player of the Week honors, as he racked up 2 sacks and 5.5 tackles for loss. Rucker was moved back to his natural position this off-season, and the results proved that he’s been playing out of position in past seasons. Rucker provided a type of pass rush that could change the outlook for this defense in 2023.

  • British Brooks: Many Tar Heel fans were concerned when they saw British Brooks listed as the starting running back over Elijah Green, who really emerged down the stretch last season. Brooks, who is in his seventh season, is making his way back from an ACL injury, and looked healthy on Saturday, rushing for 103 yards, on 15 carries. That 6.9 YPC average was helped by a long run of 29, but it also came as a result of the team sticking with the run game, and wearing down an opponent as the second half moved along.

  • Kobe Paysour: Another start for Paysour, another game leading the Tar Heels in receiving. After Tez Walker was ruled ineligible, and Nate McCollum wasn’t healthy enough to go, Carolina needed someone to emerge as a pass-catching threat, and that proved to be Paysour, who caught 7 passes, for 66 yards, and a touchdown. It’s unclear when Walker be eligible to play, and even though Nate McCollum could return for the home opener, Drake Maye has already found a reliable target to throw to.

  • John Copenhaver: After last season, Bryson Nesbit felt poised to have a breakout 2023 campaign, as he’s received NFL Draft interest, with his size, skill, and pass-catching radius. Instead, John Copenhaver is TE1, and he looked the part on Saturday night, grabbing 3 catches, for 52 yards, and an impressive touchdown reception. His ability to be an impactful blocker, along with his receiving talent, is the reason he won the starting job, and that was all on display against the Gamecocks.

Trending Down:

  • Team Health: Before the game even started, Carolina announced that DeAndre Boykins would miss the entire 2023 season, meaning the Tar Heels lost their starting nickel corner from last season. Then, Nate McCollum was ruled out of the game, taking the top two proverbial targets away from Drake Maye. It was also rumored that Dez Evans wasn’t going to play, but he was able to go. All in all, injuries happen to every program across the country, but some of the potentially impactful injuries could really hinder Carolina moving forward. Thankfully, it looks like Mack Brown finally has the type of depth it’s going to take to compete for a return to the ACC Championship Game and a New Year’s Six bowl game.

  • Gavin Blackwell: With the injury to McCollum, and the absence of Tez Walker, this was a great chance for Blackwell to emerge, and instead, he dropped the ball. Literally. Blackwell struggled to make catches whether he was open, or in a contested situation. He also played a role in one of Drake Maye’s two interceptions. Now thankfully, Maye showed his trust in him, going back to him on a big pass play in the third quarter, that went for 37 yards and set the Tar Heels up in scoring position. He’ll have a chance to redeem himself next Saturday against App State, as it’s unknown if Walker will be deemed eligible, and if McCollum will be healthy enough to go.

  • Tayon Halloway: It might be harsh going after a true freshman in his first-ever game, but the team is trying to go from good to great, and this is part of it. Halloway made some plays where you can see the talent he’s been blessed with, but his inexperience was also on display. He got called for a holding penalty, that would’ve gotten the Tar Heels off the field, in the third quarter. And when Spencer Rattler had time to throw, he went after Halloway many times down the field, and was successful, as the young corner struggled to get his head turned around and make plays on the football. This is a minor trending down, as there is a lot to like about the young defensive back, and he’s capable of bouncing back next week.

The Tar Heels return to action next Saturday, as they open up the 2023 home slate with a date against App State, after playing a classic last year in Boone. Kickoff is set for 5:15 on the ACC Network.


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