CHARLOTTE, N.C. –– Reminiscent of his first game against FAMU a year ago, running back Omarion Hampton once again proved his worth to North Carolina after stacking a pair of touchdowns in the team’s 31-17 win over the Gamecocks Saturday night.
In what was the 60th meeting between the two teams, yesterday’s Mayonnaise-glazed affair set the tone for the No.21-ranked Tar Heels. They showed everybody in Bank of America Stadium who the real Carolina is and in the process, gave HOF coach Mack Brown his 100th career win across his two stints in Chapel Hill.
The young running back was the first Tar Heel to score with a one-yard touchdown drive on third and goal – putting a weak Gamecock defense on blast. This immediate offensive production from the Tar Heels is a good sign, especially since the group has been under the instruction of new offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey. And while it’s still early, I’m confident that consistent, high-level productivity from these guys won’t be a problem as the season goes on.
The offensive prowess of Heisman favorite Drake Maye was on display yet again—completing 24-of-32 attempts for 269 yards with two touchdowns. He hit nine different receivers, despite being without arguably two of his top targets in Nate McCollum, who suffered a lower-body injury, and Tez Walker who still remains ineligible.
In light of these absences Maye was able to develop some chemistry with his tight end trio, a group that combined for 120 yards.
Junior John Copenhaver led that group with 52 yards, hauling in an 18-yard touchdown pass from Maye in the third quarter to extend UNC’s lead.
But enough on the offense.
Unlike last season, last night’s game wasn’t wholly dependent on the finesse of Drake Maye after an unexpected lift from the team’s defensive unit.
One of the biggest questions coming into this season was how well the defense was going to perform after coming off a peaky 2022 season. They ranked last in the ACC in sack and pressure rating, and skimmed the bottom of the FBS in total sacks. They also gave up 30.8 points and 436.5 yards per game, performances that tortured Tar Heel fans all season long. Last night, however, they put on a different
The guys looked more comfortable under year two with Gene Chizik and got after South Carolina quarterback Spencer Rattler for nine sacks, including two from Florida State transfer Amari Gainer (tied for second on team). Last season, the defense had just 17 sacks for the entire season.
As a whole, the unit racked up 16 tackles for loss, including steady performances from the linebacker duo of Cedric Gray (nine tackles, three solo) and Power Echols (six tackles, five solo).
It was senior jack Kaimon Rucker who caused a ruckus, however, putting up the most impressive stat line from yesterday’s win. He led the team in solo tackles with six, 5.5 tackles for loss and two sacks. And today, he was named the Walter Camp National FBS Defensive Player of the Week.
With the win, the Tar Heels move to 1-0 on the season and will host App State for their home opener at Kenan Stadium on Sept. 9. Kickoff is slated for 5:15pm.