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The Daily Tar Heel

Let's play the overreaction game after UNC football's week one win

Mack Brown on Kenan Stadium's field
Mack Brown speaks to the press on the field of Kenan Stadium following a conference regarding the upcoming football season.

It's the most wonderful time of the year: overreaction season.

Week one of college football is in the books, which means media and fans alike get to analyze no more than 60 minutes of game time for any given team and make wild predictions for an entire season's worth of football.

Here's what we might (read: might) have learned from North Carolina's season-opening 24-20 win against South Carolina on Saturday, and what it could (read: could) mean for the rest of the 2019 campaign.

The running game is as good as advertised

Before the season, Mack Brown told the DTH that the team's stable of running backs, including junior Michael Carter, sophomore Javonte Williams and senior Antonio Williams, was "the best unit we have." 

They lived up to that billing on Saturday. UNC as a whole combined for 238 rushing yards, with Carter, Williams and Williams rushing for more than 50 apiece. Javonte Williams led the way with 102, while Antonio Williams averaged 13.3 yards per carry on four touches.

Always having fresh legs in the run game is a huge positive, and will help take the load off of the passing game as the season rolls on. Look for UNC's running back trio to continue carrying the offensive load as long as defenses permit.

An improved defense, after a shaky start

Thanks mostly to missed tackles and unnecessary penalties, the Tar Heels gave up multiple long drives in the first half, leading to points for South Carolina and a 13-6 deficit at the break.

Brown attributed the miscues to NCAA restrictions on tackling in camp and practice, and said after the game that the defense improved as the game went on. In the second half UNC went on to allow just seven more points and secured two late fourth quarter interceptions, both from junior defensive back Myles Wolfolk, to seal the win.

The Gamecocks aren't exactly world-beaters. But allowing just 20 points in a season opener is a good sign for a team that allowed nearly 34.6 per game last year. If Brown can continue shoring up the defensive mistakes — of which there were many, he assured the media — UNC will be in a great spot to compete on both ends of the ball.

Sam Howell is the truth

Brown was reluctant to take off the training wheels for Howell, the team's rookie quarterback, in the first half against the Gamecocks, as he totaled just 94 yards on 11 attempts before halftime. With the game in the balance, though, Brown put the game in Howell's hands, and he delivered back-to-back touchdown drives of 90-plus yards to nab a come-from-behind win.

So, here comes the biggest overreaction of all: Sam Howell is the clear answer for UNC at quarterback, this season and beyond.

Howell's final stats — 245 yards through the air to go with two touchdowns — were good, not great. More impressive was his seeming comfort in Phil Longo's Air Raid system and, y'know, the fact that he graduated high school just months ago, still showing remarkable composure in his first college game. 

That's not to say that Howell played a mistake-free game; he under-threw a wide open Tar Heel for a sure touchdown in the third quarter, then fumbled later on the same drive. But when it comes to perhaps the most important element of quarterback play – inspiring confidence in teammates – Howell has so far proved more than capable.

“Just seeing him scramble around and make those plays, that builds a lot of faith,” offensive lineman Charlie Heck said.

The season will more than likely feature plenty of highs and lows with Howell under center. But based on what he showed in his first-ever college game, there's no reason Howell's presence should be greeted with anything but genuine excitement – for 2019 and for seasons to come.

@ryantwilcox

@DTHSports | sports@dailytarheel.com

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