CHAPEL HILL, N.C. — North Carolina was 9-1 for the majority of the 2022 season and that was with a poor defense. Now imagine what they could be with a pretty decent one.
With a 31-17 win over South Carolina last Saturday, No. 17 North Carolina has set the tone early ahead of a difficult stretch. And tomorrow they must fight to keep their respect as they face an App State team they barely squeaked by last year.
And I mean that literally.
The Tar Heels barely escaped their first-ever football visit to Boone with a 63-61 victory, but it was far from a pretty one.
It was an absurd fourth quarter as the Mountaineers jumped to an early lead yet fell behind by a sizable margin, making a remarkable comeback in the final minutes of the game.
With 31 seconds left the Mountaineers closed in after Dashaun Davis’ 28-yard touchdown catch and a game-tying two-point attempt after a 26-yard touchdown from Mountaineer receiver Kaedin Robinson. In response, UNC returned an onside kick for a touchdown for the win, but it was still a dreadful showing.
“Last year was tough to watch. The fourth quarter was the main issue, so there were a lot of things that we obviously had to clean up from that game,” said defensive coordinator Gene Chizik.
The defense surrendered 40 fourth-quarter points to the Mountaineers in the final quarter with Chase Brice throwing for 203 yards and four touchdowns. However, the defensive unit we saw last season has seemingly cleaned up their act after they exceeded expectations last weekend – holding the Gamecocks to just 17 points.
In 2022, UNC held an opponent to under 20 points just once. Against South Carolina they produced nine sacks, with two apiece coming from Bednarik Award Player
of the Week player Kaimon Rucker and FSU transfer Amari Gainer.
In order to come out this weekend with a win, the defense must prove that the changes they’ve made aren’t short-lived, but something that will persist into the season.
The Mountaineers came out with a 45-24 in their season-opening victory at Gardner-Webb last week, with their starting quarterback Ryan Burger going 7-of-11 with an early touchdown before exiting with a finger injury. Second string Joey Aguilar came in, completing 11-of-13 passes for 174 yards and four touchdowns in the win – setting the record for most touchdown passes by a quarterback in an App State debut.
The performance of Carolina’s defensive front and secondary tomorrow will prove a good measuring stick of their enhancements, however it won’t be an easy task. The Mountaineers will look to run the ball a bunch after producing 150 yards against the Runnin’ Bulldogs. Nate Noel went for 117 yards last week and the junior running back scored two touchdowns against the Tar Heels in 2022.
This game is sure to be a serious test for the Tar Heels and after Saturday, I’m sure we’ll have a much better picture of the strength of this team. I expect a high-scoring game, another 250+ yard game from Drake Maye and a highly-aggressive effort from both teams. Let’s see how it all goes down tomorrow.
Who: North Carolina (1-0) vs. Appalachian State (0-0)
When: Saturday, September 9th, 5:15 p.m. ET
Where: Kenan Stadium, Chapel Hill, NC
Last Meeting: UNC, 63-61
All-Time: The series is tied 1-1