The Tar Heels have to put Friday night’s loss to Wake Forest in their rearview mirror. With a very solid Appalachian State squad arriving in Chapel Hill Saturday, North Carolina won’t be looking back for long. The Mountaineers present a new set of challenges, as the Tar Heels look to bounce back. Mack Brown will have the Tar Heels focused solely on playing the program he coached for a season, back in 1983.
Tar Heels Look to Bounce Back
What happened in Winston-Salem?
The Tar Heels arrived in Winston-Salem as three-point underdogs against the 2-0 Demon Deacons. North Carolina had already won close games against South Carolina and Miami, while Wake Forest had wins against Utah State and Rice. In the Deacons’ game against Utah State, they gave up nearly 600 yards of offense. Surely Sam Howell and the Tar Heels would move the ball at will, with the Air Raid machine humming. However, the offense sputtered until finally getting it going late in the game.
The Wake Forest offense looked dynamic, especially during the first half. Jamie Newman repeatedly gained yards on quarterback keepers, and receiver Sage Surratt was nearly unstoppable. Newman ran for two touchdowns and threw another to Surratt, giving Wake Forest a 21-0 lead at halftime.
The Tar Heels didn’t cross midfield until the third quarter. Howell returned to the field after being replaced by Jace Ruder for a couple of series right before halftime. A Noah Ruggles field goal put North Carolina on the board at the end of the third, and with nine minutes to play, Howell connected with Michael Carter for a touchdown. The game started to have the feel of a “Carolina Comeback,” especially after Dyami Brown caught a touchdown pass three minutes later. A two-point conversion catch by tight end Garrett Walston brought the Tar Heels to within a field goal.
A Controversial Ending
Wake forest still had life on offense. A nearly five minute drive resulted in a field goal, with the Deacons leading 24-18. With a minute to play and no timeouts, the Tar Heels went back on offense, but couldn’t stop the clock. On the game’s last play, a fourth and one, Carter took a handoff for thirteen yards, but didn’t get out of bounds immediately, as he tried to follow a block. It looked as if Carter went out of bounds with a second left, but the officials called forward progress, in-bounds. They signaled that the game was over and sprinted off the field without reviewing the play.
Saturday, the ACC admitted the the officiating crew and replay officials made a mistake, which probably cost the Tar Heels a last chance at a Hail Mary attempt. It was a disappointing finish, although for the third week in a row,North Carolina played its best football in the fourth quarter.
Injuries Are Taking Their Toll
North Carolina is dealing with a variety of injuries on both sides of the ball. Cornerback Patrice Rene was lost for the season during the Miami game, and he was sorely missed in the Tar Heels’ secondary. Myles Dorn did record an interception against Wake Forest, and North Carolina shut down Scotty Washington, Wake’s 6’5 receiver. However, Newman was able to complete nine passes to Surratt, for 169 yards and a touchdown. Defensive tackle Jason Strowbridge, tight end Carl Tucker, and receiver Antoine Green were all held out of Friday’s game due to injuries. Linebacker Allen Cater and right tackle Jordan Tucker went down with injuries during the game.
Strowbridge’s absence hurt, as Newman had no trouble running the ball against the Tar Heels. It’s unclear whether Strowbridge will be good to go against Appalachian State, but he will be needed against the Mountaineers’ potent ground attack.
The Loss Of Polino Has Hurt The Offense
Center Nick Polino was injured during the first half of the Miami game, and is out indefinitely with an undisclosed lower-body injury. The offense, particularly running back Javonte Williams, has suffered from the loss of Polino. Before Polino went down, Williams had been gashing opposing offenses with between-the-tackles carries. Since that time, Williams has found the going much more difficult. The Wake Forest defense held him to 27 yards on nine carries, while sacking Howell six times. While the severity of Polino’s injury is uncertain, the Tar Heels unquestionably need their senior center back healthy as soon as possible.
Hopefully some of the injured Tar Heels will be back in action this Saturday. With so many key players inactive, it’s only natural to think back to Larry Fedora’s last two teams, which were decimated by injuries. North Carolina will be depending on several players, including true freshmen, to step up and play well while the verterans are on the mend.
Appalachian State Is Talented And Experienced
Brown is certainly familiar with Appalachian State; his first head coaching job was in Boone. He would leave after one season, joining Barry Switzer’s program at Oklahoma, before being hired as head coach and athletic director at Tulane. The Mountaineers won two FCS National Championships before moving to FBS Division 1 status. Appalachian State is accustomed to winning, and this year’s team is off to a 2-0 start.
Former Appalachian State head coach Scott Satterfield left after least season, taking the Louisville job. The new head coach is one the Tar Heels remember well. Eli Drinkwitz was the offensive coordinator at NC State before taking the Mountaineers’ head position. He inherited several really good offensive weapons when he arrived.
Quarterback Zac Thomas was the Sun Belt Conference 2018 Player of the Year. The junior from Alabama is no stranger to the big stage. Last season, he completed 28 passes against Penn State at Happy Valley. Thomas can run when he has to. He would rather throw first, but he has rushed for as many as 77 yards in a game. North Carolina will have to get to Thomas and force him to make bad passes under pressure.
The Mountaineers may have one of the most underrated running backs in the country. Darrynton Evans took over as the primary running back in game five last season, and never looked back. He had six runs of over 50 yards last season, and 16 runs of over 20 yards. Last week against Charlotte, Evans averaged a ridiculous 12.3 yards per carry. While he will be facing a different level of competition this week, there is no denying Evans’ ability to break big plays.
Outlook For Saturday
Appalachian State’s defense appears to be somewhat suspect. Although the Mountaineers hung 56 points on Charlotte, they gave up 41 points and a ton of yardage. It would not be surprising to see North Carolina get the ground game back on track Saturday. Williams should find some holes, and Carter will likely catch some swing passes out of the backfield. One of the Tar Heels’ touchdowns against Wake Forest was a swing route to Carter, and North Carolina could use Carter more as a pass-catcher. When Carter is in the game, he is usually the fastest player on the field. If he gets to the corner, he can do serious damage. He should get his chances this weekend.
This should be another close game at sold-out Kenan Stadium. Appalachian State will no doubt come to Chapel Hill pumped to take on a Power Five opponent. The Tar Heels will face a strong challenge from a good team. However, if North Carolina can re-establish the run and step up the defensive pressure, this can be a good opportunity to pick up the third win of the season.