Coming off its season-opening loss to Virginia Tech, the No. 24 North Carolina football team is looking to get back in the win column. A prime opportunity awaits on Saturday at home versus Georgia State.
The recently high-flying Tar Heel offense came back down to Earth Friday, turning the ball over three times and racking up only 208 passing yards. Most of the struggles came from a young receiving corps still acclimating to real game action, especially in a hostile environment, but the rest came from a veteran offensive line that simply didn’t execute.
Fans should expect a cleaner performance from the Tar Heel offense this weekend as it returns to Kenan Stadium.
“I love the corrections period that we had yesterday,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said at a press conference Monday. “You know, I love that nobody was talking, everybody was locked in. I love that there’s a focus here, and I think you’re going to see the product of the results of that moving into game two and into the rest of the season.”
Aside from a less-than-stellar first quarter, the UNC defense ramped up the intensity during the final three quarters, holding the Hokies to fewer than 300 total yards and forcing two turnovers.
“Once we kind of got them on the sideline and settled down, we kind of went to playing a little bit more static defense a little bit to try to get our feet underneath us,” said co-defensive coordinator Jay Bateman. “Once we did that, then we did add the blitzes to it. We were able to create some negative plays.”
When watching the Georgia State offense this weekend, expect similarities to the Appalachian State offense from 2008 and 2009, something Bateman is familiar with from his days at Elon.
Even though the Panthers lost 43-10 to Army on Saturday, the Tar Heels cannot afford to take them lightly. Playing Army’s triple-option attack means fewer possessions for one’s offense, and the Panthers felt that firsthand by having a time of possession of only 17:53.
UNC head coach Mack Brown summarized what to expect from the Panthers.
“They’ve got a veteran defense,” Brown said. “The strength of their defense is their defensive line. They’ve got a good secondary as well. They’re a running, play-action football team. They’re pretty much like us that they have the spread (offense).”
Offensively, the Panthers feature Cornelious Brown IV, a 6-foot-5 mobile quarterback who helps pace the team's rushing attack. Last season, Brown finished second on the team with 98 carries and scored seven rushing touchdowns. Another factor is senior running back Destin Coates, who was the team's leading rusher last week.
Mack Brown also noted that Georgia State took down a heavily favored Tennessee squad — with current UNC running back Ty Chandler — in August 2019, so keeping his Tar Heels’ focus on this week is a must.
A North Carolina victory this weekend needs three main corrections from last weekend. First, football is a game won in the trenches, so offensively, it all starts up front. Pushing Georgia State defensive linemen backward will open the running game that the Tar Heels so successfully established in 2020.
On the flip side, communication between guards and tackles must improve to handle twists and stunts from the Panthers’ front seven.
Secondly, UNC must start faster than it did a week ago. The Tar Heels found themselves down 14-0 at halftime and couldn’t claw their way back. Getting an early stop and turning it into points will be huge on Saturday.
Lastly, UNC cannot afford to lose the turnover battle again. Over the last five NFL regular seasons, teams that commit fewer turnovers than they force have won the game 76.8 percent of the time. The Tar Heels lost this battle last week in Blacksburg, which ultimately sealed their fate.
Recovering from last week’s loss won’t be easy, but the Tar Heels have had a week to learn from their mistakes. Their season isn’t over, but the road to the ACC Championship starts this weekend with a much more winnable game.
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