The Tar Heels went on the road this past Saturday and grinded out a key win over ACC Coastal foe Miami. The attention now turns to another important divisional road matchup as the team travels down US 15-501 to face rival Duke. Let’s take a look at who is trending up and trending down as we head toward Saturday in Durham.
Hood may have been the best player on the field for either team prior to exiting the game early in the 4th quarter. He had a career-high 124 yards of total offense on 18 touches, including 50 yards on five receptions. He led the charge on the ground for a Tar Heel team that ran the ball much better on first and second down. The fact that he did not appear on the injury report on Monday is promising for a guy who has started the last two games and showed some things to be really excited about on Saturday.
Both of the middle linebackers had strong performances on Saturday, but Echols was a step above everyone else on this Tar Heel defense. He led the team with 14 total tackles, twelve of which were solos. He was one of the biggest reasons why the Tar Heels were able to hold Miami to just 41 yards rushing on Saturday, as both he and Cedric Gray did a great job once again filling the gaps in the run game.
Taylor has been the steadiest force on this Tar Heel defense and he led the charge in the defensive front again on Saturday. He led the team in tackles for loss (1.5), sacks (1.0) and quarterback hurries (4) on a day where the Tar Heels were able to get the most consistent push up front of the season. We heard coming into the season that he was the most important pick up of the group and he has shown that so far both in production and as a leader.
⇧Kevin Hester Jr.
Hester Jr. got the start in place of the injured Raymond Vohasek and played extremely well in his place. He finished with three total tackles, including two solo tackles and graded out better than all but one of the games that Vohasek has played in so far this year. It will be interesting to see what he can do this week starting in place of him once again, but it is hard to ignore the impact that he had on the success of the run defense on Saturday.
Jones wasn’t the most impactful player on the field for the Tar Heels on Saturday, but he continues to impress with his ability to create separation on the outside and make big plays. He made that big play once again on the opening drive against the Hurricanes, catching the 74-yard touchdown that opened the scoring. He has found his niche in this offense and the question now is can he make his impact as the deep threat more consistent.
Silver was another guy who benefited from the absence of Vohasek in terms of the number of reps that he saw and the impact that he made. He racked three total tackles in those 15 snaps that he played, grading out extremely well, especially in run defense. Silver may not be heading toward a starting role, but this is encouraging for a Tar Heel team that needs some of these young defensive linemen to start breaking out.
This group looked really good against Virginia Tech the week before, but they were picked apart by a Miami passing game that had major question marks entering the game. Don’t get me wrong, the scheme, which remains zone heavy, has definitely contributed to the issues, but this is still a team that is struggling to close on the football and, more importantly, tackling in space. The recipe of bend-don’t break worked well this week to counteract all of the yards they gave up, but that is one that is far from guaranteed every week.
Biggers had the roughest day of anyone on Saturday, especially tackling in the open field. He missed a team-high four tackles, three of which were while in coverage. He was targeted eight times and allowed five of those to be caught for 77 yards. It has been a rough start to the season overall for Biggers and with Don Chapman currently out with an upper body injury, they have no choice but to play him at a high capacity. With Chapman out again this weekend, Biggers will have to be counted on again almost exclusively at boundary safety unless Ja’Qurious Conley can make his return this week.
This is really out of the control of Vohasek, but it can’t be ignored that the defensive front played their best game of the season with him out of the lineup. If the unit performs at a similar level on Saturday against a Duke offensive line that has graded out very well so far, Vohasek’s role may have to be adjusted when he does return.