After dropping the season opener to Virginia Tech, the No. 24 North Carolina football team (1-1, 0-1 ACC) bounced back Saturday night, beating the Georgia State Panthers (0-2, 0-0 Sun Belt), 59-17.
After forcing a three-and-out on the first drive of the game, the Tar Heels got on the board early with a 22-yard rushing touchdown from junior quarterback Sam Howell. On the next drive, Georgia State was able to move the ball 43 yards and into Tar Heel territory, but an illegal man downfield penalty on fourth down halted the drive, forcing a turnover on downs.
On their second drive of the night, Howell came up big again for the Tar Heels, hitting senior wideout Antoine Green in stride with a 57-yard pass to extend the lead to 14-0. After the hot start, UNC coughed up the ball on their own 19-yard line on their third drive of the night, giving the Panthers prime field position, but the UNC defense was able to hold the Panthers to a field goal which made the game 21-3.
After cutting the Tar Heel lead to 18, Georgia State marched 75 yards down the field and scored on a 4-yard quarterback keeper to make it an 11-point game, but the score would not stay close for long. The Tar Heels went into the locker room with a 14-point advantage after senior kicker Grayson Atkins added three more to the lead with a 29-yard field goal, but by the end of the third quarter, the lead blossomed to 35 after the UNC offense scored three unanswered touchdowns after the break.
The Panthers were able to answer in the fourth quarter with their second touchdown of the day, but the Tar Heel offense kept tacking on points with two more late touchdowns to give coach Mack Brown his first win of the 2021 season.
Who stood out?
Howell led the charge for the Tar Heels on offense, completing 21 of his 29 passes for 352 yards and three touchdowns. Howell also accounted for two touchdowns on the ground, rushing for 104 yards on 11 attempts. Green, junior Emery Simmons, and sophomore Josh Downs led UNC in receiving yards, combining for 263 total yards and each chipping in a touchdown.
For Georgia State, senior quarterback Cornelious Brown and sophomore running back Marcus Carroll accounted for the only points of the night on two rushing touchdowns inside of the red zone. On defense, the Panthers were led by senior linebacker Blake Carroll, who accounted for six total tackles, to go along with 2.5 tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks.
When was it decided?
Georgia State was able to hang around in the first half, but the Tar Heels began to run away with the game in the third quarter, scoring 31 unanswered points to transform a 14-point halftime lead into a 42-point blowout.
Why does it matter?
After struggling to get much going on offense in their season opener against Virginia Tech, the Tar Heels were able to bounce back in a big way on the offensive side of the ball Saturday night.
Against a weaker opponent, the UNC offense was able to find its groove as the team heads into a tough matchup against Virginia next weekend.
When do they play next?
The Tar Heels will be back in Kenan Stadium again next Saturday, as they meet up with Virginia. Kickoff for the conference battle between the Tar Heels and the Cavaliers is scheduled for 7:30 pm.
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