CHAPEL HILL, N.C. –– All of my predictions for what I thought was gonna happen on Saturday night went down the drain after UNC’s close encounter with the Mountaineers, pulling away with a 40-34 win.
In the second test of the season, we learned more about the strengths—and weaknesses— of this team. Now 2-0, let’s hone in on some of the biggest takeaways from the win.
Omarion Hampton is a Superstar:
It’s clear that Mack Brown has stood on business regarding UNC’s run game, because since the HOF coach brought in offensive coordinator Chip Lindsey the team has done a phenomenal job of maintaining possession of the ball. On top of British Brooks’ impactful return against South Carolina, where he rushed for 103 yards on 15 carries, sophomore running back Omarion Hampton ran for 234 yards and three touchdowns on Saturday – including a 17-yard run in the first overtime period to pull the Tar Heels out the disadvantage.
Hampton carried the ball 26 times as part of North Carolina’s 319-yard attack from the ground, proving that the run game has been a point of emphasis and success for the Tar Heels.
“Listen, I knew he was gonna have days like this,” said his fellow teammate Cedric Gray with confidence. “He’s going to have a crazy season. I’m telling you right now. I seen it all. He runs the ball hard, he lowers his shoulders and he’s a very downhill runner. He’s gonna be a great player. I see him playing on Sundays.”
The sophomore also bursted for a career-high 68-yard touchdown to put the Tar Heels on the board after a Hughes field goal. He finished the half with 126 rushing yards, becoming the first Tar Heel to rush for 100 or more yards in consecutive home openers since the 1980s. His accomplishments against the Mountaineers earned him ACC running back of the week.
UNC’s Defense Still Needs Work:
In the final minutes of the contest, UNC lead 27-24 and all the defense needed to do was stop one last drive from App State, yet they instead faltered – allowing kicker Michael Hughes to put in a 33-yard field goal to even the score and send the game into overtime.
The defense continued to struggle into the overtime period, allowing Mountaineer running back Nate Noel to score his second touchdown of the game with a 7-yard rush into the endzone.
Saturday’s defensive outing raised questions. Just a week prior the unit tallied nine sacks against the Gamecocks and held them to just 17 points. That defense we saw on Sept. 2, however, was not the one that took the field against App State – not sacking Mountaineer quarterback Joey Aguilar once.
They were able to hold it together in the end, locking in when it mattered most. But they need to double down on the missed assignments if they want their wins to stretch across the whole season.
The Offense Needs to Find Their Rhythm:
The O-line finished their season-opening campaign without allowing their Heisman hopeful to get touched, yet fell short of protecting their signal-caller on Saturday – allowing two sacks from the Mountaineers’ defense.
While they made up for it by creating holes for Hampton they need to do a better job of holding their own, especially as they face a Minnesota defense that ranks ninth in total defense – averaging 223.5 yards per game.
Drake Maye connected with seven different receivers, yet dropped balls and miscommunications characterized the absence of touchdowns among North Carolina’s receiving core. If they hope to make a dent offensively and help out Maye—who rescued the team with a 13-yard run in the second overtime—they’re gonna have to put their heads together and figure out how to effectively put away
North Carolina dropped down three spots to No.20 on the AP poll because of their shaky performance, so let’s see how they fare against this Saturday at 3:30 p.m.