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Heel Tough Blog: Week 4 Stock Report

The Tar Heels continued their hot start to the 2023 season on Saturday night when they took down the Pittsburgh Panthers on the road for the first time under Mack Brown. That win puts the team at 4-0 for the first time in 26 years and just the second time since 1983 and gives the team their third double-digit win over a Power 5 opponent this season. As the team heads into a much-needed off week that will allow them to rest up and get healthier for the remainder of the season, here’s who’s trending up and down.

Alijah Huzzie

Huzzie has many Tar Heel fans comparing him to guys like Brady Manek and Cam Johnson as the best transfers that have come through campus after a tremendous all-around performance on Saturday night. He had two really nice punt returns and the second one, which he took 52 yards to the house, was the turning point for the Tar Heels that allowed them to pull away. On the ensuing drive, the East Tennessee State transfer came up with a huge pass breakup on 3rd & 12 to force a field goal which allowed the Tar Heels to take a double-digit lead that they never relinquished. In the second half, he pulled down two interceptions that helped to keep the game at three possessions. Huzzie has been nothing short of amazing so far this season and the staff deserves a ton of credit for finding him in the portal this offseason.

Drake Maye

Maye has had a bit of an uneven start to the season, but on Saturday night he put together his most complete performance of the year. He completed 22 of his 30 passes for 296 yards and a touchdown and also found the end zone twice on the ground. Eleven of his first twelve completions went for ten or more yards and he hit four passes of 20+ yards on the night, something he has continued to do at a high rate this season. The best play of the night, though, came on his touchdown throw when he rolled out to his left and used his left hand while improvising to find Kobe Paysour for six. He might not be putting up the gaudy numbers that some of the top Heisman contenders are, but what he did Saturday night will certainly keep him in contention.

J.J. Jones

The Tar Heels have been looking for a consistent threat on the outside to go with what they have gotten from the slot receivers and they may have found it in Jones. He led the team in receiving on Saturday, catching six passes for 117 yards, including four catches of 15 or more yards. In the last three games, Jones has been the team’s most reliable pass-catching option as he has pulled down 14 of his 19 targets for 272 yards. Expect Jones to be a big part of this passing game the rest of the way once the team returns from the break.

Noah Burnette

Burnette handled the kicking duties again on Saturday and had another strong showing. He hit all five of his extra points and nailed both of his field goals which came from beyond 40 yards, a range he struggled with late last year. This is now back-to-back weeks where he has stepped up and his important 40+ yard field goals and he is only further solidifying his position as the team’s starting kicker.

Kaimon Rucker

Last week was a quiet one for the Tar Heel edge rushers, including Rucker, but he returned to his form from the first two games on Saturday night. He registered a team-high seven total tackles, two sacks and five quarterback pressures on 54 defensive snaps. Rucker is off to one of the best starts of any pass-rusher in the entire country and has finally given the Tar Heels a consistent threat off the edge.

Backup Safeties

The Tar Heels' starting safeties, Don Chapman and Giovanni Biggers, have had a really good start to this season and now the backup duo of Will Hardy and Stick Lane are starting to make plays. Lane played just 19 snaps but finished with six total tackles while Hardy had three tackles of his own on his 19 snaps. This defense has built some nice depth across the board, but nowhere is it stronger than at safety right now.

John Copenhaver

Copenhaver was active against Appalachian State and Minnesota but wasn’t able to catch the ball due to an injury to his right hand. Saturday night, he was a full go and it paid off with two big catches for 53 yards, including a big 40-yarder on the drive where the team tied the game at 14. With a week off, Copenhaver should be able to return to 100% and make a major impact in the passing game moving forward.

Kick Coverage Team

The main reason that Pittsburgh was able to stick around on Saturday night was the kick return touchdown that cut the lead right back to 14 after the Tar Heels had grabbed a three-touchdown lead. The kick return unit has been suspect the entire season, allowing an average of 34.0 yards per return, the third most in the country. This unit simply has to be better moving forward or it could cost them a game along the way.

Interior Defensive Line

While the edge rusher group recovered with a pretty solid day for itself, the interior defensive line continued their struggles. They were a big part of the reason why the Tar Heels were gashed for 97 yards rushing on the first two drives of the game. The struggles to rush the passer for this group continue as well as just three of the team’s 15 pressures on the night came from interior of that defensive line.

Andre Greene Jr.

Gavin Blackwell being out with an injury opened the door for Greene Jr. to get more of an opportunity, but he wasn’t able to take advantage of it. He played 15 pass snaps and was only targeted once, which he dropped, continuing a rough start to his season. There is still plenty of time for him to make an impact for this team at some point, but it is seeming less and less likely that it will happen this season.

William Barnes

The offensive line was solid overall, but Barnes struggled once again. He graded out with just a 17.1 pass protection grade from Pro Football Focus and allowed quarterback pressures and one sack. He wasn’t any better on run downs, with the team running for just 16 yards on seven carries when running behind him. The Tar Heels need him to be better moving forward in both areas when the team return to the field on October 7th. 


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